United Kingdom

Freemen's School Pool

London, United Kingdom
Architecture office Hawkins/Brown

Freemen's School Pool

an architektur of understatement


As the second phase of a larger transformation, Hawkins\Brown has designed the swimming pool for a private school in Ashtead, southwest of London.

Ceramics are ubiquitously present in most swimming pools, as the go-to products for wet interiors. Waterproof and durable, they can easily withstand moisture and the wear and tear of heavy use. However, even if a pool abounds in ceramics, their presence does not always constitute a dominant feature. A case in point is the swimming pool for the City of London Freemen’s School, designed by Hawkins\Brown, as part of multi-phase development plan for this school complex in Ashtead, which is listed as a heritage site. The two next phases will include the creation of new dining and kitchen facilities, boarding accommodation, and teaching spaces in the Main House.

Hawkins\Brown, written with a backslash, is a large architectural firm based in London and Manchester and boasting an extensive portfolio of wide-ranging projects, most of which in the United Kingdom. Among their recent projects are the new building for the Bartlett School of Architecture of the University College London, Burridge Garden, a large residential project also in London, and the regeneration of Park Hill, a vast Brutalist housing estate in Sheffield.
The swimming pool for the City of London Freemen’s School replaces a previous building that burnt down in 2014. Previously, Hawkins\Brown completed a building containing the music school and boarding house for 60 pupils.
Like this first building, the architecture of the new swimming pool carefully compromises between the wish to harmoniously blend in with the existing architecture, and the campus landscape, and simultaneously offer a contemporary and sustainable setting for today’s students. The new sports building houses a six-lane, 25-metre swimming pool, additional training facilities, and locker rooms.

While its exterior is rather dark and heavy, dominated by dark copper cladding, the interior is surprisingly light, with large windows allowing the swimmers to experience the world around them. According to the designers, the swimming pool building ‘nestles into the landscape by partially submerging the lower ground floor. A dark copper-coloured, standing seam cladding with vertical ribs helps to meld the building and landscape. Standing seam cladding is utilised because it is a more traditional form of construction, which responds to key features of the listed Main House. The deep columns of the all-timber construction and wrap-around glazing, which afford direct views from the water into the woodland, give the sense of swimming amongst the trees.’

In the interior, much has been done to make this architecture equally understated as its subdued exterior. The interior of the pool is defined by the sophisticated ton-sur-ton combination of neutral colours and the application of natural materials. The colour palette of the pool can almost be called an absence of colour, with greys, beiges and white, using AGROB BUCHTAL tiles from the Chroma range, combined with the Finland II pool edge system. As Hawkins\Brown’s project architect, Harriet Redman explains, ‘In relation to colour – we wanted to avoid the cliché swimming pool “blues”, and so the dark grey contrast tiling was perfect. To keep the tank colour as neutral as possible, we chose a simple white tile. We also used the integrated step tiles to create flush exit ladders. These create a more durable finish and limit the amount of stainless steel around and in the pool tank, which is prone to corrosion.’

Redman praises the quality of the non-slip finish products of AGROB BUCHTAL, which she considers ‘far less abrasive than those of other manufacturers’. And she adds ‘We are also keen that the tiles last as long as possible and we believe that the AGROB BUCHTAL’s self-cleaning surface will help to keep the pool looking good throughout its lifespan.’

Hovering over the pool is a series of glue-laminated wooden frames, which support a low-pitched roof. The ridge of the roof is slanted diagonally, thereby introducing a subdued spatial dynamic into an otherwise orthogonally structured hall. The effect of this modest spatial gesture is as low-key as the colour scheme of the ceramic products that have been applied here. The subdued presence of the AGROB BUCHTAL products in this swimming pool crucially contributes to Hawkins\Brown elegant architectural understatement, which embodies the paradoxical quality of standing out through its distinguished unobtrusiveness.

Photographer: Jack Hobhouse photography