15th April 2021

Canopy and Courtyards

A significant challenge to overcome in the conversion of C Station was its lack of any entrance big enough to manage the flow of 1260 pupils arriving each day. Working with JTP, the Houlton master planning architects, and the heritage consultees, we proposed to create an entrance between the main blocks of C Station, by demolishing the previous linking structures.

The detailed proposals involved keeping the original south façade and the north façade of this demolished block as screen walls, lowering their flanking window cills, to define a pair of courtyard circulation spaces at the heart of the school. This required very careful repair and adaptation of the brickwork, some of which had been plastered when it was made internal in the 1930’s and subsequently. The actual entrance is defined by a steel and timber canopy that incorporates the school main reception – the frame is being erected by MQM in the photo below:

Working with Concrete Renovation’s masons, the bricks, mortar and pointing for the repairs and adaptations of the courtyard walls were chosen, albeit with some inevitable trial and error. At this point we were investigating the use of render on some brickwork in particularly poor condition (that had been made internal in 1936 and rendered with a very hard cement render).

Ultimately it was decided that the render would not look appropriate and it was better to get a reasonable repair to the brickwork, even if some of the damage done during the rendering process remained visible. The resulting courtyard walls show a palimpsest of change, showing what was formerly internal, what was external and what is new, but without becoming discordant or disturbing.

At the south of the courtyard the canopy provides a generous entrance to the school, for use at the start and end of the school day. This projects southwards from the historic buildings, into the future Civic Square heart of Houlton, and includes an obvious reception and glazed waiting area for visitors. The granite paving of the Civic Square leads into the canopy and the courtyard and the geometry of the spaces leads one into the heart of the school playground around the Water Tower, giving access to all the school’s buildings.

In late June we organise an office tour to Houlton, to see the nearly complete School, and our primary school, St Gabriel’s, where a small extension forming first part of the second phase, is also under construction. The Dining Hall is almost complete – and looking wonderful.