When Bedales School opened in 1893, it was the first co-educational boarding school, with close links to the Arts and Crafts movement and a philosophy which emphasised the importance of arts, craft and drama in a child’s development. It also established an ‘outdoor work’ approach, with a curriculum including gardening, tree planting and livestock tending.
The Art and Design Building, completed in 2016 by architect Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, was designed to be the creative hub of the school and a physical embodiment of its values and ethos. The school and its 120 acre estate stand in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the edge of the South Downs National Park in the village of Steep near Petersfield, Hampshire, and the planning process required a design of sensitivity and scale that was appropriate to this beautiful rural setting.
The estate is an eclectic mix of buildings, including a loose-knit cluster of traditional barns in which ‘outdoor work’ is taught. The Art and Design Building is close by and reflects the traditional barn vernacular in both form and materials. It is L-shaped in plan, with four pitched roofs running at the west side and a fifth pitched roof turned at right angles. The L-shape creates a partial enclosure to a green space and a substantial and ancient oak tree.
Materials are used in their natural state throughout; the standing-seam metal roof has clipped gables and walls are all clad with oak or larch. On the ground floor, heavy duty craft-based design subjects such as woodwork and metalwork are taught alongside jewellery and fashion design. The pitched roofs provide ideal conditions for a series of north lit art studios on the first floor; they are open and interconnected to enable teaching and independent study for a wide range of group sizes and activities, including art, ceramics and print-making.
To the architect, one of the special qualities of the school was the close connection with the outdoors: as a result, all circulation is external, consisting of covered walkways which run along both sides of the building and double up as places to draw, paint, sculpt, or just relax and contemplate the landscape. This aspect of the design runs contrary to the ubiquitous ‘big box’ internalised model employed in many school buildings today.