Davenies School

How can design help balance the contemporary focus on technology, as a primary educational tool, with the pressing need to re-engage – both physically and psychologically – with the natural environment?

Established in 1940, Davenies School educates boys aged four to 13. Crucial to its success is a holistic approach to learning, based on engaging the children with nature and maximising their connection to the world around them. Set in the pastoral landscape of a listed farmhouse, the school comprises a collection of old and modern buildings, set around historic formal gardens and a Dell – a heavily wooden hollow for playing and learning. 

In 2012 DSDHA were appointed to provide a new library, hall and ten classrooms for Reception level through to year four, each with access to generous outdoor learning areas. 

Our intervention – with its unusual black ‘waney’ edged timber cladding and neutral timber-lined interiors – allows the sense of the architecture to recede, shifting the focus to the children’s pedagogical activities and their connection to the mature landscape outside. This process of ‘visual editing’ applied to the building and the landscape aims at stimulating the children to establish a stronger and intimate relationship with nature, something increasingly at risk of being lost in our technologically saturated lives. 

DSDHA’s design builds on the site’s history as a farm, with an informal typology to deliver a series of distinct yet coherent architectural components echoing the school’s agricultural past. These new components are:  

- The Link, which lightly touches the adjacent listed facade to provide a connection between the new extension and the rest of the school as well as a new library 

- The Reception/Teaching Wing, providing a smaller scale environment for younger children 

- The Main Teaching Wing to the north, set around the verdant Dell, and accommodating a new hall below 

These elements are organised around a ground tempered space, which connects the main historic garden of the campus to the Dell. The Link can be configured by the school to be left completely open, as a covered passage, or to be enclosed and programmed for different learning activities.  

A series of passive design measures, along with the use of a cross laminated timber structure, internally exposed in places, allowed this school to exceed the energy performance requirements of the building regulations, with the energy efficiency of the building and the associated services achieving a level of CO2 emissions that is 10% lower than the notional building.

Architect: DSDHA 
Landscape Architect: Todd Longstaffe-Gowan 
Structural Engineer: Jane Wernick Associates 
Cost Consultant: PT Projects 
Planning Consultant: Turley 
Contractor: Beard Construction
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