Donhead Preparatory School transformed by new refurbishment

Phillips Tracey Architects headed the project in Wimbledon, adding valuable teaching space and the school’s very own chapel

Donhead Preparatory School in Wimbledon has been refurbished with the help of Richmond-based company Phillips Tracey Architects. A boundary-pushing project for the company, the prep school was developed to include new classrooms, auditorium, art room, and its very own chapel.

Opened in 1933, Donhead Preparatory School is an independent Jesuit day school for boys aged between 4 and 11. Despite being a Roman Catholic school, Donhead has until now never had its own chapel, and has struggled with ongoing accessibility issues within its 83-year-old campus. Now, for the first time in the school’s history, all ground and first floor areas are fully accessible, and Phillips Tracey have worked with the existing school buildings to create a coherent scheme, sensitively juxtaposing old with new, and improving the facilities whilst maintaining the original charm.

The original brief for the project was for the modest conversion of existing roof volumes into additional teaching spaces. However, following further analysis and detailed discussions with the school, an alterative and radical approach was explored. The school could clearly see the potential benefits of a more extensive approach, and fully embraced the strategy of linking the existing buildings with new accommodation to inspire future generations of pupils and staff. The completed project exceeded all expectations and the new additions have enabled the school to operate as a coherent entity.

The chapel is the centrepiece of the development, and with capacity for 50 people, it enables the school to hold mass services, prayer services and the Daily Examen for individual classes at the end of the school day. As well as the invaluable addition of the chapel, the school has benefited from a 150-seat auditorium for music and drama, a two-storey art centre, and four classrooms for the younger years, providing much-needed valuable resources and high-quality teaching spaces. The new facilities have also provided the opportunity for a number of extra curricular activities to flourish, including the school’s drama and musical productions and a new film club. 

After 83 years Donhead finally has its own Chapel and, as a Jesuit School, is now complete.

Headmaster Chris McGrath is delighted with the improvements, commenting, “We now have an excellent range of facilities, the quality of which any school would be justly proud”. 

The alterations to the school began in July 2015 and were completed in September 2016, enriching the main south façade, and hinting at the school’s Jesuit identity. The informal gabled elevation of the existing school is continued with the gabled façade of the new chapel, and a beautiful stained glass window forms a focal point to the room. Inside the chapel, a roof lantern sits above the altar within the exposed timber roof beams, which continue the rhythm of chimneys seen on the original building.

The new development also includes more contemporary touches, with a glazed covered walkway at the main entrance leading to a new reception and office. A new, spacious classroom has also been constructed next to the new art facility, using double height windows to ensure a bright teaching space.

The overall design concept for the school was one of simplicity, using a limited palette of materials such as red brickwork to complement the existing structures. The new auditorium provides a simple and striking effect, with grey zinc shingle cladding and exposed windows to highlight the building’s evolution. Phillips Tracey also designed bespoke seating for the reception and chapel.

In terms of environmental factors, the scheme has been designed with sustainability in mind. The new extension exceeds the elemental thermal requirements of current building regulations, and the fabric of the existing building has been upgraded where possible. 

These contemporary touches add a sustainable and evolutionary feel to Donhead, whilst the complementary design allows for the development to stand cohesively with the original buildings. Further expressing his appreciation for the project, Chris stated that, “After 83 years Donhead finally has its own chapel and, as a Jesuit School, is now complete.”

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