Projects - Contemporary Design


Music School, Stowe

Client: Stowe School

Awards: RIBA South Award 2014, Commend in the AVDC Design Award's 2014, Georgian Group's “The Giles Worsley award for a new building in a Georgian context”

Stowe School set out to construct a new Music School by consolidating music teaching and music practice into a single building. The original brief called for a building to serve 130 staff and pupils for music and an audience of around 200 people in the auditorium. NCA won the commission in a design competition against a number of internationally recognised practices. The layout proposed by NCA responds to the brief, the functional needs and relevant National Design Guidance and legislation. The distribution of facilities is arranged in a balanced manner about the auditorium creating a tripartite form of buildings whose layout resonates with historic precedent in the tradition of buildings in the gardens. The layout is further enforced by its relationship with the historic landscape; the gaps for circulation between the two side blocks of the Music School being aligned on the prominent historic axes, with the Rotunda and Temple of Ancient Virtue, both within the Landscape Park.

Stowe is recognised as a garden of special historic interest of national and international importance and lies in a Conservation Area. It is Grade I listed in the Register of Parks and Gardens. Many of its buildings are Listed. The gardens at Stowe are significant in their role during the 18th Century at the forefront of innovative design of the English landscape garden.

In 2011, Stowe School commissioned a Conservation Statement on the history of Stowe Landscape Gardens and their significance. The Statement covers the evolution of the site to the present day. Following on from the Conservation Statement, proposals for the New Music School were proposed so as to be fully integrated into the historic landscape setting. Nick Cox Architects encouraged the school to consider the site of Lee’s Bastion, a circular space on the northwest edge of the gardens. The reinstatement of this feature was one of the objectives of the Conservation Statement. The Bastion is defined by a curved ha-ha to one side but its form was no longer defined, trees having been planted over part of it in the last 40-50 years.

The project therefore restored a significant historic landscape feature in the Stowe Landscape whilst also rationalising music teaching facilities for the School.The new Music School preserves and enhances the character and appearance of the conservation area through the restoration of Lee’s Bastion, restoration of elements of the historic 18th Century landscape and the provision of a new Music School building of high quality and sympathetic design. The new Music School uses fine materials (natural limestone and lime render) suited to the building’s setting and which complement the surrounding structures and traditional buildings at Stowe School.

Inclusion within a Local Authority Conservation Area controls demolition, sets restrictions on permitted development and requires that any tree works be notified to the Planning Authority for permission; all these constraints were accommodated. The appearance of the building is defined through the use of high quality materials and careful detailing to produce a restrained and composed series of elevations which have their own quiet dignity while not seeking to compete with earlier neo-classical buildings within the Estate. Locally distinctiveness was carefully considered and addressed through the predominant use of natural limestone for external walls, natural render, bronze coloured fenestration and natural stone paving to give the building a rich palette of materials (as found on buildings elsewhere in the Estate). The main structure of the building is a combination of concrete and steel framed elements with some timber frames being used. The frame of the building gives support to the external masonry.

The new facility was designed to provide a safe and convenient environment for the teaching and performance of music which is accessible to all people regardless of disability or gender. The new facility looks after the current and expanding needs of pupils to pursue their love of music in an environment which fosters high educational standards. The School aims to deliver a rich provision in music in an inspiring, sustainable environment accessible to pupils and members of the public with public concerts. The new building helps deliver these aspirations.