Connecting heritage to education

An innovative sixth-form centre at Bolton School has successfully brought together the old and new, thanks to Cassidy + Ashton

Bolton School is no ordinary school building. Constructed in the early 20th century, its imposing neo-gothic red sandstone facades echo a rich history dating back to the turn of the 16th century. It’s a heritage of combining the new and the traditional that’s still alive and well at this leading independent day school, and Bolton School’s latest project to create a new sixth-form centre linking the boys’ and girls’ sections of the school is the perfect embodiment of that ethos.

Named after old boy and chief benefactor Ian Riley, the Riley Sixth Form Centre has been designed by heritage architecture specialists, Cassidy + Ashton, with a concept that both complements the existing estate and looks to the future.

Lawrence McBurney, lead architect at Cassidy + Ashton, explains: “The new sixth-form centre at Bolton School forms a bridge between the old and the new in more ways than one. The boys’ and girls’ schools are in two wings with a central courtyard and the new sixth form connects these two buildings with glazed link corridors that provide stunning views of the original facades from within the very contemporary, new structure. The juxtaposition of the traditional and the contemporary works, however, because the new structure reflects both the materials and colour palette of the original and mirrors the distinctive clock tower directly opposite.”

The Riley Sixth Form Centre is not the first project designed by Cassidy + Ashton for Bolton School, but follows previous projects to create new infant and junior school buildings. Across all three schemes Cassidy + Ashton has specified the same red sandstone, closely colour-matched to the original building to create continuity across the school estate.

“The red sandstone is a theme that runs through the entire Bolton School campus,” Lawrence adds. “And years from now the three projects we have designed will look very much like a suite of additions to the school and an inherent part of its built environment.”

The red sandstone has not only been used to form the curved side elevations of the sixth-form centre, it has also been used internally to create feature side returns, helping to deliver Cassidy + Ashton’s aim of connecting the existing and the new.

This drive to ensure that the new sixth-form building is connected to its surroundings is evident in the landscaping element of the scheme too, which creates a completely new flow to the existing estate. In addition to connecting the boys’ and girls’ schools for the first time in the school’s history, the new structure also encloses the former open courtyard to create a collegiate-style quad, transforming an area of the grounds that was used as car parking into a thriving social space for staff and students.

Created usinggranite paving and walling and soft landscaping, the courtyard extends the synergy between old and new, reflecting the contours of the main structures with two sweeping curves that exactly match the Riley Sixth Form Centre’s curved side elevations.

While Cassidy + Ashton has paid close attention to the project’s aesthetic and heritage requirements, these elements of the design process have been supported by the school’s vision of a contemporary and future-proofed educational facility. Alongside the light and spacious classrooms behind the sixth-form centre’s central glass façade, the building provides a common room, IT suite, café and multi-use study spaces, creating a very functional sixth-form environment.

Bolton School girls’ division headmistress, Sue Hincks, explains: “This wonderful new facility provides students from both divisions with a hub for social activities and study, allowing us to retain single-sex teaching whilst creating an environment in which boys and girls will learn and relax together.”


The project team

Client: Bolton School
Architect: Cassidy + Ashton, Preston
CDM co-ordinator: Aegis Services Limited
Structural engineer: Sleater & Watson
Mechanical and electrical: Beech Jackson Partnership
Quantity surveyor: Thornber & Walker
Main contractor: Seddon Construction Ltd


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