Swimming among the trees

Image: Hawkins Brown

Freemen’s School in Ashtead, England, boasts a new swimming facility with an exposed timber frame and deep, large windows that offer panoramic views of the surrounding woodland.

Nestled amongst the trees, architecture firm Hawkins Brown chose white-stained cross-laminated timber and glue-laminated timber for the roof and walls of the main pool hall, giving the interior a warm natural finish that complements the surrounding trees. On the exterior, dark copper-coloured standing seam cladding with vertical ribs melds the building and landscape into one.

The lower ground floor of the sports facility is also partially submerged, giving visitors “direct views from the water into the woodland, [and a] sense of swimming amongst the trees,” according to the architects.

The engineered wood components were prefabricated in a factory and then assembled on-site. This method is quick, enabling the project to be completed in a year. Since only simple tools are required for installation, engineered wood construction is also cleaner and safer compared to conventional building methods, reducing noise and dust levels in the neighbourhood.

Ironically, the all-timber construction is a re-built of the old pool that was lost to a fire in 2014. The new sports facility houses a 25m, six-lane competition pool with changing rooms and a multi-purpose teaching and event space. It is now adjacent to the school’s existing sports facilities and marks Phase 2 of the school’s building masterplan. Previously, HawkinsBrown had already completed a new music school and a boarding house for 60 pupils in 2014.

Future construction works will see the London-based firm refurbishing the historic Main House and improving landscaping works for the school grounds.