New St Bede’s House – the significance of stewardship in its architecture

Monday, 23 September 2013
New St Bede’s House – the significance of stewardship in its architecture

As its lead architect, Ian Henham from Miller Bourne Architects explains why Worth School’s newest House accommodation offers much to reflect upon…

Religion has historically inspired great architecture, but usually of the splendid kind, like the golden ceiling of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, or the intricate spires of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. More modern religious buildings have tended to be less flamboyant, reflecting an aura of stillness, reflection and watchfulness, such as the Abbey Church itself here at Worth School.

The coming together of school architecture with all of its constraints and regulations, with the origination of a building that has spiritual foundations can be a challenge.

From the outset a very definite brief was set by the Worth Abbey community and the Worth School Governors that a new boarding house for St. Bede’s should be respectful of its setting, service the needs of the occupants within a controlled cost framework, and be durable and serviceable over a long period of time.

Early studies of how the new building could sit into the woodland setting south of the School’s Gervase House (which I had designed in 2003) involved the production of a considerable number of different designs and plans. These were carefully questioned and consulted upon by numerous groups and attention to detail on all matters, even down to the internal colour schemes, caused much debate and soul- searching as to what would work best.

It was important that Benedictine values were imbued in the project from the outset and that the building had elegance and grace, and did not try to compete against its setting in any way. Architecturally we tried hard to ensure that the final outcome was pleasing and gentle on the eye, and added to the calm of its environment.

We wanted the building to be a home from home for its occupants, to mellow gracefully with age and foremost be a place that uplifted the heart.

At an early stage the environment became a critical factor in the project as due to its location in a wooded area considerable care had to be taken to ensure that any potential bat colonies would be protected and nurtured. Dusk and dawn ‘emergence’ surveys were undertaken with high-frequency listening equipment and new bat boxes have been erected on trees around the building to balance any loss of tree habitat.

Bat boxes around worth school
New Bat Boxes have been places around the grounds at Worth School

As part of Worth School’s environmental/ecological policy, an array of solar power, photovoltaic (PV) panels are installed on the buildings. On St. Bede’s this needed to go on the west-facing roof of the main boarding house. Achieving good levels of sustainability is very important in any new building and renewable technologies such as PV panels are one way of offsetting the ‘carbon footprint’ of a building of the size of St. Bede’s.

The building also makes full use of the latest in LED lighting technology: every light fitting inside the building is formed with low-energy, light-emitting diodes, making the building’s energy consumption levels extremely low. Rainwater run-off from the roofs runs down to replenish Leaney’s Pond in storm conditions and foul drainage is taken all the way across to the Abbey’s reed bed drainage system to the south of the School.

We were delighted that the new building won a Sussex Heritage Design Award for ‘its architectural vision’. This is a prestigious Award and served to justify the hard work that went into the project from the design team, the craftsmen and builders and all of the people involved within the Worth community who helped shape it.

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