Scott Brownrigg completes Glulam-roofed activity centre in Surrey

The 4,000m² facility for St George’s College, Weybridge contains a sports hall, dance studios and a series of flexible spaces

The three-storey activity centre designed by Scott Brownrigg replaces a 1980s prefabricated building. Marking the 150th anniversary of the 1,000-pupil co-ed school and college, the centre is designed to accommodate sports and activities for both students and the local community. 

Located on Green Belt land, the building’s form is intended to blend with the landscape, with a Glulam roof structure and CLT deck spanning the activity spaces in a gentle wave-like form.

 An eight-metre change in level across the site is taken up by a ’processional’ staircase at the heart of the building, providing a visual connection between all the spaces and acting as a linking route between the main school buildings and a higher-level athletics track. 

The main sports hall incorporates a glass sprung floor, the largest of its kind in the UK, which is fully programmable using LED lighting for all types of sports. The hall also contains a climbing wall at one end, and other facilities include dance studios, a strength-and-conditioning suite, changing rooms and multi-use areas for group activities, meetings or exhibitions.

The main hall and atrium are naturally ventilated, while 200m² of solar PV panels are mounted on the roof and there are air-source heat pumps powering the underfloor heating system.

Architect’s view

The renewably sourced freeform Glulam roof structure and CLT deck spans the activity spaces. Like a flying carpet it drapes over the volumes of the sporting spaces (designed to Sport England standards). Using parametric design, it creates the most minimal building form. From the inside this expressed CLT and Glulam roof soars dramatically between the main hall and the studio spaces, while sweeping down to create a gentle relationship with the surrounding landscape. 

Creating an inspirational environment was a fundamental requirement of the school. The overarching roof flows through the building, dramatically connecting the main hall, central stair, dance studio and viewing café into one space. The expressed timber creates a calming atmosphere inside and connects the user with nature while sequesting carbon to create a sustainable building structure.

Solving the challenge of the level changes across the site while addressing access to the multitude of activities has driven the design of the central movement spine, which forms the focal point of the new building. Taking inspiration from Wells Cathedral staircase, which flows up towards the chapter house, the main staircase in the Activity Centre creates a dramatic cathedral-like space. It creates access from the lower school campus, up through the sporting studios, culminating at the athletics track, finally connecting the whole school together.

Multisport activity halls suffer from a visual confusion of painted line marking. A general criticism of these spaces is that the overlapping court lines become almost illegible as they clash and cross over, limiting the level of play. The Activity Centre, however, utilises a sprung glass floor system with interactive LED line marking below the glass. This innovative system enables the staff to switch between all sports, at the click of a button, allowing maximum flexibility and reconfiguration to suit the changing requirements of the curriculum. The result is a dramatic improvement in the utilisation of the space, allowing basketball to be played alongside badminton or climbing.

Sustainability has been a key driver for the project. The Activity Centre has been designed with a fabric-first approach to ensure that the orientation and form of the building are fully considered and optimised before any renewable technology was employed. The building has optimum levels of insulation and efficient use of roof form (including large shading overhangs to all elevations), and it utilises the stack effect to drive the main natural ventilation system. A careful selection of materials, such as opaque insulated light walls, allows natural diffused light penetration without problems of glare and overheating.

The timber roof reduces embodied carbon; the natural ventilation terminals combined with underfloor heating create a comfortable, low-energy sustainable environment, which will cope with our changing climate over the next 50 years.

Scott Brownrigg developed this building using Virtual Reality not only as a design tool, but as a medium to engage with stakeholders, the main contractor and tradesmen on site. The use of VR has been intrinsic in the design process, enabling the design team and client to work collaboratively on key details to ensure all stakeholders truly engage with the design. Virtual Reality also enabled the college to showcase the building to gain support and funding.

Client’s view

St George’s is delighted to be in at the beginning of such an exploitation of Virtual Reality. The ability to ‘enter’ a building and walk around is transformative from a client perspective, as it brings to life things which we, as non-specialists, often miss when poring over plans and diagrams. Really importantly, it helped those in the client group who would love to be on the design team but can’t for some reason, to get involved quickly and intuitively. In seconds, they can orientate to the building and see how they will interact with it, with valuable insights and comments able to be incorporated much more quickly and easily. Furthermore, it kept wider staff groups feeling engaged, consulted and valued, and triggered ideas and highlighted issues earlier than they would have surfaced previously.

Project data 

Start on site December 2017

Completion October 2019

Gross internal floor area 4,200m2

Form of contract JCT D&B

Construction cost £15 million

Architect Scott Brownrigg

Client St George’s College, Weybridge

Structural engineer DOA Consulting Structural Engineers

M&E consultant Desco

QS Madlins

Landscape consultant PLACE Design & Planning

Acoustic consultant Hann Tucker

Project manager Madlins

Approved building inspector Butler and Young

Main contractor Blenheim House Construction

CAD software used Revit, Enscape, Dynamo

Environmental data

Annual CO2 emissions 33.8kg/m²

On-site energy generation 32kW peak PV system

Airtightness at 50pa 3m³/h.m²     

Overall area-weighted u-value Average 0.35W/m²k

Design life 25 services, 50-year structure

Embodied / whole-life carbon 33.8kgCO2eq/m²

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