Completed autumn 2008, The Cloisters, St Benedict’s School, London is the winner of a 2009 RIBA Award and a 2009 BCSE Award.
Founded in 1902, it is located in the West London suburb of Ealing. Like many private schools it has grown over the years by colonising a number of houses, and putting up new buildings as and when the need and funds arose. In a sense “The Cloisters” is no different, it is just a new piece in the jigsaw, although for now it is the one that completes the puzzle.
The new building creates two new halls (one for assemblies, the other for examinations), a new Chapel, a Music School, Modern Languages department, visitor and pupil entrances.
An early design decision was to plan the new building, like Russian dolls, with one hall inside the other. The inner 2-storey 225sqm examination hall is framed by a cage of columns and doors which when open increase the floor area to 400sqm creating enough space for assemblies. Together the physical form, and plan, of the halls invokes a cloister at the very centre of the school, and reflects the Benedictine culture. It is also used for play rehearsals and performances, concerts, exhibitions, receptions and fencing practice.
The cloister is used to organise both new facilities and the school estate as a whole, and addresses changes of level of 1.8m transforming accessibility. Materially, the concrete spaces are akin to those of a monastery. However, the atmosphere on the attic storey is different- the engineered timber interiors provide an altogether softer environment for the music school which frames the chapel and garden in which it stands. The scheme employs thermal mass, is naturally ventilated and daylit. Innovative teaching spaces respond unusually to the use of whiteboards.