Old and new elements interweave to create a new arts venue at Tonbridge School.
The rapid expansion of Tonbridge School during the nineteenth century was due to a huge thirst for education among a growing middle class. It was at this time that the school, originally founded in 1553, began to take shape in its current form, with a cluster of Grade II-listed gothic-style buildings structured around lawns and quadrangles. Old Big School sits at the heart of the campus, part of an impressive three-storey range of buildings built in 1864 to either side of a central tower. It was originally used as a classroom, a huge space containing ranks of wooden benches, but in time became more peripheral to the school’s learning activities, being used for exams, parents’ evenings, dinners and other celebrations.
Orms have been working with the school for a number of years, and the project to reinvigorate Old Big School forms part of a wider masterplan. The vision was to restore the space as an artistic and creative hub, and a venue for an increased remit of events for both school and local communities. The historic fabric of hall had suffered with unsympathetic timber insertions during the 1960s, and these have now been removed and replaced by crisp white surfaces (acoustic and display panels) in a palette of complementary white tones to unify the space. A gallery has been added to one end of the hall along with a free-standing entrance lobby. This is enhanced by new gallery-style lighting, which has enabled the curation of an impressive contemporary arts programme in the space.