Text description provided by the architects. In the southwest of Stowe Gardens, a new girls’ boarding house has been introduced into the setting of one of the pre-eminent examples of the English Landscape Movement. Sheltered at the edge of a long dividing strip of structured woodland known as Pyramid Wood or Rook Spinney defining the edge of the Western Gardens, the area is concealed from the historically constructed grazing land once of English longhorns and rare breeds.
An outskirt of the pleasure gardens, the landscape apron has long been a place for surprise and delight. In the undergrowth, a ruined foundation and base of Vanbrugh’s last work at Stowe is still visible; a 60-foot Egyptian-style pyramid, completed by Gibbs after Vanbrugh’s death and dedicated to his memory.
Since Stowe School’s founding in 1923, there has been incremental development along the fringe of the Western Gardens and inside the linear tree belt. In 1935 R Fielding Dodd added a set of three repeating outlying masters’ residences known as the Home Park Houses. Now sheltered by mature trees from the historic landscape, the Neo-Georgian street is a suburban adjunct to the Arcadian dream.
A snaking path links the Home Park boarding settlement to the main school campus to the north, cranking through woods and over sloping ground to meet a cluster of two-storey houses. The site hugs tightly to the houses and outbuildings, performing as a gateway to the landscape.
The plan is split into two blocks, a low- lying two-storey block with external terrace and main shared facilities. The second is partially sunken into the ground plane over three floors and connected by a bridge over the path running between. Utilising the path, the new accommodation runs alongside the three houses, continuing a loose concatenation of line, materiality and form, enclosing a courtyard as a bridging element to the fourth house.
The adjacent houses are simple rectangular footprints of earthy brown brick tones and white steel framed windows. The three houses are connected by single storey wings traced by a brick string course and a common eaves level marking tall chimneys and steep pantile roofs .
Path, topography, woodland, and surrounding massing are playfully integrated in response to the setting. Arranged over two blocks linked at high level, the silhouette is refracted into groupings of taller volumes framed by terraces and parapets.
The path is enclosed by solid walls of finely detailed brick and sentried by a solemn drum and tower elements, into a small courtyard. Bedrooms at ground are sheltered by the deep set tree belt offering long views across the open landscape.
Datums are taken from adjacent houses – the common eaves level marks a parapet, with a soldier course regulating ground and first floor divisions. From these guides, volumes shift, rise and fall in curtains of brick. Windows are loosely arranged in open plan spaces or aligned behind stacks of accommodation, in crisp white arrangements. A faintly noticed change in brick pointing above the string course rewards closer observers.