Building with wood has a long tradition in southeast England. St. James School would like to offer its pupils the opportunity of learning how to work with wood as well. The workshops take place in a structure whose exterior contrasts starkly with its interior. The construction combines historical methods of wood building with modern technology.
Client: St James Senior Boys’ School
Architect: Squire and Partners
Location: GB–TW15 3DZ, Ashford, Surrey
Where sheds and storage rooms once stood in a disorderly row, there is now a workshop on the grounds of St. James School. The single-level building, which features a hipped roof, has no windows. This is for functional reasons; the interior wall surfaces are used to store tools. Only a skylight in the roof edge provides daylight. Like the eavestrough, the skylight fits seamlessly into the shape of the roof without disrupting the line of the cubature. The exterior walls are clad with a black shell of vertically arranged slabs and cover strips. This is only one of several nods to vernacular architecture. Squire and Partners have again borrowed extensively from the traditional architecture of the region. As the workshop at the boys’ school will be used primarily for woodworking, classic timber joints were used for load-bearing elements. The joists were attached to the wooden frame with a mortise and tenon technique. Because the roof truss is exposed and the light enters exclusively from above, rafters, purlins and posts take centre stage. The only contrast to wood in this construction comes from the steel screws that go through the joists in a few places. The interior is completely clad in wood: light Douglas fir and birch veneers stand out from the darker exterior colour. The visible construction and its robust interior are a practical setting for workshop activities. The decision to leave the wooden structure exposed and use traditional building techniques was deliberate. By working in this environment, the pupils will learn about the beauty, longevity and versatility of wood as a material.