Baylis Old School, London, by Conran and Partners: A former derelict school in South East London has been given new life as a vibrant and unique live work community of apartments that reflect and draw inspiration from the original 1960s Brutalist design.

The former Lilian Baylis School has been transformed by architects, Conran and Partners, and owner-developer, Henley Homes, into a vibrant development that draws on its rich history and secures a sustainable, long-term future for this important set of historic buildings and the courtyard spaces they create. The listed school buildings have been restored and converted sensitively to provide a range of new homes, inspired by the design of the 1960s architecture which they occupy, together with complementary and distinctive contemporary new-build dwellings to create 149 new homes, landscaped gardens, secluded plazas and community facilities that re-connect back to the wider neighbourhood.

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Conran and Partners’ design approach converts what were classrooms into light-filled spacious ‘60s modernist apartments juxtaposed with contemporary new homes that draw on the character of the existing historic buildings. The landscape setting and series of intimate courtyards reflect the strong architectural character of the original scheme and complement the historic buildings. The project has created a new reflecting water pool in the main courtyard area, originally proposed within the 1960’s masterplan but not implemented until now. The scheme, completed and fully occupied by the end of the first half of 2016, was recently recognised a Winner in the ‘Completed Projects’ category of the 2016 Housing Design Awards. It was also shortlisted for a 2016 New London Award (‘Conservation and Retrofit’ category).

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Originally designed by Architects Co-Partnership (ACP) as a school, the development was completed in 1964 and initially opened as Beaufoy Secondary School providing education for some 600 children. It was later renamed after the famous Victorian/Edwardian theatre producer-manager Lilian Mary Baylis and given a Grade II listing in 2002. This acknowledged its plan form with linked blocks forming a series of asymmetrical courtyards creating a ‘sense of drama’.

Tim Bowder-Ridger, Senior Partner and CEO, Conran and Partners: “Conran and Partners has a long-standing reputation for working successfully with often important historic buildings. We focus on the reinterpretation or even reinvention of their purpose, with a view to ensuring their relevance and viability for the future.

Reawakening projects like Baylis Old School, Centre Point and the Barbican’s Blake Tower plays a significant role in preserving the spirit of our past…

“Recently, through the resurgence of interest in British modernism, our commissions have extended to working with substantial pieces of Brutalist architecture. Adapting and rejuvenating these impressive concrete structures with confidence and flair begins by defining their original design philosophy and palette of ‘rules’. Getting to the crux of this at the start of a project ensures the architectural integrity lives on, whilst our interventions become graceful and engaging parts of the whole. Reawakening projects like Baylis Old School, Centre Point and the Barbican’s Blake Tower plays a significant role in preserving the spirit of our past, whilst creating unique places to live within a world in danger of becoming ever more generic.”

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The evolution of Conran and Partners’ design was informed by actively engaging with – and seeking views from – a broad range of stakeholders, including site neighbours, artists in residence, local council representatives, English Heritage, the GLA, Secured by Design, national politicians and the original architects. In particular, the project architect for the Beaufoy Secondary School, Bob Sealy – formerly of APC and now retired – provided Conran and Partners’ design team with invaluable insight into the thinking behind the design and responded positively to the conversion proposals. ACP gave the team access to its drawing archives to existing buildings and original design strategies. The team undertook extensive consultation with the local community, culminating in two separate public exhibitions.
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Baylis Old School offers more than four times the amount of amenity space on site than is required by statutory guidance. A range of high quality private and shared spaces is provided for residents in the form of balcony areas and terraces, spacious courtyards, communal gardens with water features, seating areas and safe-play zones for younger children. A number of mature trees have been retained, supplemented with generous new planting. Mini-allotment beds have been constructed to encourage and maintain active community involvement and healthy lifestyle activities.

The former school hall – located wholly within the Old Baylis School development – has been retained. The developer is currently in discussions to find a suitable tenant – ideally with a community focus – for this building.

Phil Kapur, Associate Land Director, Henley Homes: “Working on a project like Baylis Old School has been immensely satisfying for the team at Henley. It was a unique site in an advanced state of dereliction when we acquired it, and the collaboration with Conran and Partners has created a new community of outstanding homes.”

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All photography by Edmund Sumner