Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’s simple and sensitive additions transform a ’50s campus
Allford Hall Monaghan Morris has typified the concept that ‘beauty can be found in simplicity’ with the transformation of the Burntwood School. The project, a 1950s Modernist campus in Wandsworth, London featuring works by Leslie Martin, was commissioned as part of the UK’s Building Schools for the Future programme and was in need of an architectural extreme makeover.
Instead of demolishing the original school, the practice took a more sensitive approach – as seen through its careful spatial re-organisation, the choice of materials, and consideration of the school’s heritage. As the old buildings intertwine with the new pavilions, they create a lasting dialogue between the campus heritage and its future.
The all-girls school features six new buildings including four, four-storey teaching pavilions, a performing arts centre and a new sports hall. Surrounded by gardens, lawns and squares, a central pedestrian spine allows for easy circulation through the campus.
Inside the school, a linear plan with a central corridor leads to the classrooms and accommodation areas, and ultimately to double-height spaces with voids that allow natural light to stream in, creating a peaceful learning and living environment. The result is aesthetically pleasing, efficient and loved by many.
Continuing the concept of simplicity, the facades of the pavilions are composed of precast-concrete panels in a neutral colour palette. Occasionally, our minimalist journey around the school is interrupted by pops of yellow, which help to break up the monotony.
The project did not come without drama of its own – within the first three months of the project, the newly elected coalition government opposed the Building Schools for the Future programme, creating doubt as to whether the project would reach construction. The BSF programme would later be derided as a failure: its aims were commendable but PFI funding took much control of schools out of the hands of local educational authorities – upon being scrapped, work on some 715 schools that had applied for the programme was unable to go ahead.
Given this, it is lucky that Burntwood School was one that did go ahead. The school has gone on to be worthily shortlisted for the 2015 RIBA Stirling Prize, and remains a great example of how a balance can be struck between old and new to transform an existing school into great architecture.