Walters & Cohen: American School in London arts building

A new four-storey arts building for the school uses materials to sensitively reference nearby architecture and inspiration from adjacent listed villas

Words by Emily Martin
Images by Dennis Gilbert/Vie


Project Info

Architect: Walters & Cohen
Client: American School in London
Size: 1,200 sq m
Duration: 18 months


The American School in London (ASL) has opened its new arts building, as completed by architecture practice Walters & Cohen. Located in St John’s Wood, the independent school has already been subject to a much larger master plan as undertaken by ORMS, with Walters & Cohen working closely in a team to deliver the new space on a ‘land-locked’ site. It presented many challenges for the practices.

The arts building takes its visual cue from the listed, semi-detached villas on the site adjacent to the school, with the new four-storey building designed to resemble a single large property. The complexity of the project was heightened by its location on a prominent corner plot in the St John’s Wood conservation area, where proposed developments attract a lot of attention. ‘[Securing] planning permission was a challenge and, with the school already maximising the use of land, it meant we had to go up, and the design had to be sensitive to its surrounding environment,’ says Walters & Cohen associate Tim Hardy. And excavating down posed other complications, with a railway tunnel leading to London Marylebone station, running under the school.

The design allows for a large, column free floor plate that can easily be partitioned
The design allows for a large, column-free floor plate that can easily be partitioned

Liaising with the ASL’s board of governors, ward councillors and local politicians, Walters & Cohen presented its concept design at a three-day public exhibition, which was well received. The facade, one of the major concerns, features a range of materials including recycled glass, stucco flutes and marble; stone was considered the most appropriate material on account of its elegance and traditional qualities.

Light and shadow is cast on the hand-finished fluted limestone facade, which also include stone and bronze
Light and shadow is cast on the hand-finished fluted-limestone facade, which also includes stone and bronze

It draws on the timeless quality of stone, while being expressed in a contemporary manner. Light plays on the facade and its hand-finished, fluted-limestone features that fade towards the top of the building, while bronze-framed windows give another reference to the local architecture. ‘We didn’t want a concrete bank,’ says Hardy, ‘and this offers a softness to the exterior, which is expressed in the natural sunlight. The north-west facade has a series of fins to stop being overlooked by neighbouring flats’.

The design allows for a large, column free floor plate that can easily be partitioned
The design allows for a large, column-free floor plate that can easily be partitioned

Internally, the space has been designed for practical use, which could see some 1,100 students, ranging from across the school’s elementary, middle and high school levels, use the building. Walters & Cohen has ensured a large floor plate, with stairs on either side of the building, allowing for large, open floors, free from columns and flooded with natural light.

The ground floor provides exhibition space, with art, sculpture, ceramics and photography studios on the other three floors. While the upper three floors are open, the ground floor gallery space features a dry-lined wall, which can be easily removed.

Light and shadow is cast on the hand-finished fluted limestone facade, which also include stone and bronze
Light and shadow is cast on the hand-finished fluted-limestone facade, which also includes stone and bronze

‘We were delighted to win the competition five years ago to design a new art school at ASL,’ says Cindy Walters, director at Walters & Cohen. ‘The project was a brave undertaking, and throughout the project ASL demonstrated all the qualities of an exemplary client: vision, ambition and dedication to the community it serves.’

Key Suppliers

Stone masonry
S. Mcconnell & Son
Stone cladding International

Concrete subcontractor
Whelan & Grant

Flooring
Junckers
Pica Flooring

Lighting
Zumtobel





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