Evening at Chalk Farm

RIBA Twitter crop

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Last time I was at the Round House, I was watching Bob Hoskins in all the pomp of his stage villainy plot the downfall of the Duchess of Malfi.  Tuesday evening and I am sitting at a fancy table, well dined, in a Round House adapted for the RIBA awards, surrounded by architects, listening to Louise Minchin describe the four buildings that are shortlisted for Client of the Year: Bedales School Art & Design Building being one of them.  The judge opens his envelope and – wow! – Yes, we have won.

Up onto the stage we go for the presentation of the award and my brief, sob-free, acceptance speech.  Big thanks are due to Tom Jarman of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios who nominated us for the award and to the home team: Matthew Rice whose vision for the building informed the project;  our bursar, Richard Lushington, who held all the different dimensions together; Nigel Hartley, the project manager; and the heads of Art and Design, Simon Sharp and Ben Shaw.

Cameras flash etc and we troop off to leave the stage free for the Stirling Prize – Hastings Pier, which is firmly on my list of places to visit.

The RIBA Client of the Year has been awarded since 1998 and we are the first school to win the prize – you can see the previous winners here.

So, this is good for Bedales, for the independent sector and for schools in general.  Building well, works – great design and a great process is often no more expensive than the grimly utilitarian. And you have a building that will inspire for a century or so.

For me, there are three major lessons that come from the Client of the Year accolade.

The first is the power of ethos.  The RIBA booklet describes it as “a building after a philosophy of being”. In the same way that we have tried to ensure that the ethos permeates the curriculum, so the best of our buildings embody the ethos.  Appreciation of the beautiful, making and doing and the influence of the school environment are all key elements of that ethos which the building reflects.

The second is the power of consultation: students, staff, parents, OBs, the local community were all consulted.  The initial plans were rejected – “too big, too dark, too close to Steephurst” – and the revised ones then consulted on further.

Finally, it is the strength of collaboration. RIBA described is as “co-authorship in the truest sense”.  Architects and school understood, liked and respected each other, with a brilliant result.  Hoorah!

New views

Gemma Klein Photography

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Saturday morning and I am sitting on a hard bench in the Lupton Hall listening to the music that precedes our Open Day panel.  I am looking up over the stage out of the Oriel window behind the stage at Scots pine branches that are swaying within this stark round frame.  This is the first time I have sat, listened and looked within the newly reborn Lupton Hall.  With the old curtains stripped away and the original stark beauty of the Lupton Hall now evident, its original conception is clear – and it’s stunning.

The New Hall, as it was originally called, is an integral part of Bedales’ founding, being a product of the friendship and early professional partnership of three of the master-craftsmen of the late Arts and Crafts movement, Geoffrey Lupton, Ernest Gimson and Sidney Barnsley.  In 1911 Lupton asked Gimson to draw up plans for new buildings at Bedales – a hall, library, gym and labs around a large open quadrangle.  The New Hall became the Lupton Hall because Lupton supervised the building  and did most of the work himself; it is also thought that he paid for it himself.   The majesty of our Memorial Library, Gimson’s design but built by Lupton and the Barnsleys (Sidney and his son Edward), has overshadowed the Lupton Hall, but the refurbishment of the latter will, I suspect, re-balance matters.

Our architect, Richard Griffiths, has re-captured the original uncompromising conception of the building: the old curtain and the sloping stage have gone, re-capturing the original volume of the room and enabling the stage to be used for music ensemble practices and for concerts across all three schools.  The view I now enjoy over the stage and out that Oriel window hasn’t been enjoyed for a good 90 years because of the curtain.

Reflecting on this I remember another new view: in April 2006, hard hat on, climbing up amongst the scaffolding to the top floor of the Orchard Building site,  I looked across to the Library and could see the Library’s shape from above and the clerestory windows that you wouldn’t know existed without that perspective. Only birds and passing balloonists had seen that before.

It feels just as good to see a wonderful old building restored as it did to see a new one, like the Orchard Building, opened.