St Helen & St Katharine Science Centre
Founded in 1938, St Helen and St Katharine is a leading independent school for girls situated on the north-western fringe of Abingdon in Oxfordshire. The school inhabited a cluster of Edwardian buildings dating from 1906 for much of its life, but from 2000 the School embarked on an ambitious expansion programme constructing a new sixth form centre, performing arts centre, and a library.
In 2012 the School’s focus turned to their science accommodation, and a project brief was developed that would provide dedicated new laboratories for biology, physics and chemistry. Following some early studies, it became clear that a compact building form close to the existing school buildings on the site of an old swimming pool was the best solution. This would minimise land-take on a campus where future buildings were already being planned and ensure a good connection with the rest of the School.
The new science centre provides 12 laboratories over three floors in a simple rectangular plan and is connected to the existing school with a large atrium. This light-filled space with the Edwardian façade of the original school buildings on one side, and a series of large break-out spaces at each level on the other, provides a variety of exciting interactive spaces for displays and informal study. The building has a generosity of space, natural light and transparency, with large areas of glazing opening up expansive views to the surrounding landscape.
With its prominent south-west facing gable, the new science centre acts as a ‘bookend’ to the central cluster of original school buildings. It is clearly a modern intervention, but its red brickwork elevations, which are the predominant facade material on the campus, and the slate grey roof tiles to the pitched roof acknowledge the adjacent School buildings, reinforcing the existing character of the estate.
The new science centre is an outstanding modern learning environment with the girls at its heart. It provides students with the opportunity to fully engage with their studies in science curricular and beyond in a stimulating and inspiring facility.Bernadette Stubley
Headteacher, St Helen & St Katharine