Whilst it might not have secured this years Stirling Prize, Bishop Edward King Chapel remains a stunning building.
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College features Clipsham Limestone by The Stamford Stone Co installed by Szerelmey Ltd
Very occasionally a building comes along which sits so comfortably within its natural surroundings that it seems almost organic . Despite the very modern approach from the award winning, Niall McLaughlin Architects, the chapel's use of traditional materials has not disturbed the tranquillity of its majestic setting of Ripon College, which is a theological college in rural Oxfordshire dating back to the 1850's. The chapel was funded by The Sisters of the communities of St John Baptist and the Good Shepherd and is named after Edward King who as a priest and then as a bishop was chaplain and then principal of Cuddesdon Theological College before becoming Bishop of Lincoln in 1885.
Whilst the original structures by G E Street are spread across a very generous and open site, it is immediately apparent that Natural Stone has been used extensively giving the buildings a common bond. The stone used 160 years ago would have been quarried locally but is alas no longer available. One of the reasons that the buildings, the chapel is one of two new buildings on the site, feel so at home within their surroundings is the meticulous detail that has gone into the stone selection embracing the extensive experience of Harrison Goldman Stone Consultants.
Peter Harrison, Chairman of Harrison Goldman, past President of the Stone Federation Great Britain (SFGB) and a Deputy Chairman of the SFGB technical committee went on to comment - "Cast Stone is increasingly being used on a cost saving agenda but in my view it lacks the soul of natural stone which has a unique patina providing both a depth and a life of its own. The stone weathers giving the building a maturity and a very individual appearance. Bishop Edward King Chapel is one of the best projects I have been involved in for many years and I consider it on a par with the Diana Memorial and work on Buckingham Palace where I have been commissioned as the specialist natural stone consultant. I am lecturing to many of the world's top architects in Verona at The International Trade Fair for Stone Design & Technology in September and will be majoring on the Ripon College project".
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College Cuddesdon - Stunning Stonework
Having carried out the necessary research including colour matching and technical test data the decision was made to use Clipsham Limestone from The Stamford Stone quarry just outside of Peterborough. Clipsham Limestone has been used prominently in nearby Oxford as well as in Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, York Minster and even as far back as Windsor Castle almost 700 years ago, as such its durability and pedigree were never in doubt. Peter Harrison added " Taking into account the geographic location, frost resistance was a key factor and the Clipsham Limestone was the only stone Harrison Goldman found that had sufficient test data to show it was fit for purpose"
With the architects having secured the commission after a competition attracting 126 entries from far and wide, the winning design needed to be exceptional. Despite the architects citing many influences from Rudolph Schwarz to the recently departed Seamus Heaney, the resulting structure remains very individual. The brief called for "not just a building but a work of art which would touch the spirit"
The design draws from various physical shapes from the elliptical floor plan reflecting "The cupped hands from praying" or the "Ship of Souls".
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon
Beard Construction secured the project under a competitive tender process which owed more to attention to detail than price. It was felt from their presentation that they fully understood the dynamics of the project and the attention to detail required in its construction. Their long standing working relationship with the colleges of Oxford obviously reflected their ability in this type of project. They quickly assembled a team of specialist suppliers and sub-contractors who would not be daunted by the task ahead. Pre-Construction Manager, Martin Wareham was under no illusions " We appreciated the detail, precision and quality of finish required and it became clear at the very early stages that the chapel was destined to become a 'portfolio' project."
Our main concern on starting the project was accuracy, making sure that all of the elements met in the right places and this required a lot of workshops with the suppliers and specialist contractors. For example the interior Glulam Columns had to meet up with the Stone and Blockwork with tolerances of plus / minus 2-3mm on a 12 metre high structure. The work involved a great deal of time with our site surveyors continually monitoring progress. Whilst there had been plenty of 3D modelling by the architects and engineers prior to us starting, once we were on site it was old fashioned engineering with surveyors and theodolites taking constant readings.
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon - Fantastic detail and precision blockwork
The 11m high single storey building has a teardrop shaped floor plan influenced initially by the elliptical shape of the cupped hands of worshippers when praying, and consists of three distinctive horizontal layers each using the Clipsham Natural Stone in varying guises. The lower 3.5 metres consists of hand cut ashlar blocks which are gently curved with each unique section referenced as to its exact position within the structure. The beauty of this buff coloured Oolitic Jurassic Limestone is immediately apparent showing the grain within each section giving it both a uniformity of colour and texture whilst paradoxically allowing each piece to be individually distinctive. The intrinsic features within such natural products are the reason behind their specification on quality architecture and as Stanton Williams Architects 2012 Stirling Prize winning Sainsbury Laboratory so eloquently demonstrated, modern architecture and 200 million year old natural materials can form a stunning combination in the right hands. As no two pieces are identical this intimate level of detail could not be achieved using man made materials.
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon - Each piece of Clipsham Limestone Ashlar was hand cut and individually referenced for its exact place in the building
Moving up to the middle band, the limestone is used in a very different but arguably even more dramatic form. The 4 metre high course of limestone consists of approximately 36,000 individual 250 x 110 x 90mm 'bricks'. These have been laid in dogtooth alignment with absolute precision in both the vertical and diagonal planes to create a visually stunning basket weave effect. The original plan was to produce the basket weave effect in timber prior to English Heritage insisting that the building facade should be entirely of stone, the architects have however accomplished the mandate with aplomb using the revised material. Tim Allen-Booth, Project Architect for Niall McLaughlin Architects felt the change from timber to stone actually enhanced the finished project " We however think in the end that this was fortuitous as it is now a better building for being all in stone."
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon. - The middle band features thousands of individual blocks all laid in dog-tooth bond
Whilst this incredibly eye-catching effect was very technically challenging in itself, the stone installation by the Vauxhall based stone specialists Szerelmey was further complicated by using a very traditional mortar mix. The architects rightly specified Lime Mortar for its ability to allow micro movement. The high levels of precision required for the dogtooth profile obviously takes longer than a more straightforward bond and the mortar can neither get too hot or too wet during construction. In order to avoid any potential failure of the mixture the Szerelmey teams needed to continually cover and protect the mortar during the whole process.
The final tier is again another triumph. A series of ribbon windows described as "a halo of natural stone fins" adorn the upper level whose height corresponds with the surrounding tree canopies. The window design and position allows dappled light to enter the windows forming a natural brise soliel and casting dancing shadows upon the light coloured stone. The slender window surrounds are formed by steel framing clad with Clipsham Natural Limestone sills, fins and copings designed and installed by Szerelmey.
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon - All the window components were hand cut by the Stamford Stone Company
Steve Dite, Contracts Director at Szerelmey went on to confirm their technical input " Szerelmey worked very closely with the Architects on the design of this very complex construction, individually templating all the elliptical stones to ensure the desired accuracy was achieved. The design of all stainless steels fixings and complex supports for all the protrusions was also carried out by Szerelmey"
The partnership and technical planning between the main contractor- Beard Construction, Specialist Stone Contractor- Szerelmey Ltd and The Stamford Stone Company enabled all parties to be very well prepared so that all of the materials were scheduled well ahead of the build programme. This resulted in sufficient scope for the precision cutting, almost all by hand, by the skilled quarry stone masons to reach the very high standards required by all concerned. The consequences of such forward planning meant the finished materials being assembled at Stamford Stone's Peterborough works on pallets sometimes weeks in advance ready to be called off by Szerelmey. Such foresight needs to be commended as the arrangement resulted in no material related delays on site but also meant that any complications or alterations on site could be dealt with straight away. Having a team of skilled artisans installing the stonework also enabled any minor alterations to be made on site but as Steve Green, Works Manager of Stamford Stone revealed "Because of the forward planning our quarry team were so far ahead of the game that any replacements or alterations could be made and delivered to site almost instantly."
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College Cuddesdon - Dogtooth Blockwork
Martin Wareham of Beard Constructon added "The stonework is absolutely superb, the dedication by the guys on site in all weathers was fantastic, just taking their time and making sure it was done right, the overall finished article is superb. The precision on the dog tooth with the accuracy in the vertical, horizontal and diagonal planes is fantastic. That level of craftsmanship would be very challenging on a flat plane so it is all the more impressive within a continually curving wall."
Perhaps most importantly the clients are delighted with the finished project
Sophie Farrant, Development Director of Ripon College said " The beauty of the building's exterior comes from the use of a single material, natural stone, laid in a unique and complex way in three contrasting levels requiring exact precision in its construction"
The Bishop Edward King Chapel was deemed architecturally proficient enough to make the 2013 Stirling Prize shortlist of 6 projects. A recent press release by RIBA, (Royal Institute of British Architects) commented on their selection for the last six. "Exquisite detailing abounds in all six projects, perhaps most potently in the Bishop Edward King Chapel in Oxfordshire whose rich stone façade and timber interior provide some of the best examples of craftsmanship the judges have seen for some time."
We will leave the last words on the stonework to Steve Green of Stamford Stone Company " We are very proud of our whole team at Stamford Stone in not only being very effective as a supply chain but also in producing such a high level of precision without resorting to computer generated robots. The unique charm of this building is in its natural products and the use of Natural Stone but the fact that every piece has been individually fashioned here at our quarry is very satisfying. In fact many of the college's original buildings from 150 years ago would have been produced in a very similar fashion and that is one reason why this building will blend in with its surroundings and still look as good, perhaps even better,
long after we have gone."
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon.
It is fair to say that even the most hardened construction professionals involved in the chapel construction have been touched by their connection with this project and whilst ecclesiastical new- builds are not common occurrences this one in particular has left a resonance beyond the obvious.
The college principal, Revd Canon Prof. Martyn Percy said " The new Bishop Edward King Chapel sits at the heart of our worshipping community. It is not just a beautiful building but a work of art which touches the spirit and captures our hope for the church and the world and for the shaping of religious and spiritual life. We are delighted to not only have a building which serves the needs of the college but is also a stunning piece of architecture."
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon - The interior is very simple but stunning
The building's interior is equally stunning with its simplistic style of light coloured Glulam timber which delicate filigree form seems to replicate the intricacy of the nearby tree crowns and canopies, whilst still fulfilling their ecclesiastical design mandate. The interior is so simple that there remains nothing inside to distract you other than perhaps the jaw-dropping workmanship. Peter Hogg of Cowley Timber explained the sheer amount of work involved with the stained Glulam Timber " The multi-way connections were the primary challenge given only that each of the 4No incoming rafter members had 60mm of timber thickness in which to fit and site assemble the jointing of the components added to which were pre-machined grooves and coordination for lighting cables and services.
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon - Glulam Timber by Cowley Timber
Geometry was another complication with the very 3 dimensional structural form and the amount of components required to interface within the space. Connections were conceived using ‘Glued in Rod technology’ providing efficient and accurate interfaces with precision made connecting brackets. The machining of the timber was only possible with such accuracy due to our 5 axis CNC Router machine used for profiling the glulam timber sections and forming the joints. Other timber connections were formed without steelwork taking advantage of finger-jointing technology. An experienced and diligent workshop and office team were essential in collaborating to ensure it all came together"
Geometry was managed by close file sharing allowing all of the design team to manage and monitor progress and interfaces throughout the design process including mock-ups and workshop meetings with proactive interest and visits to our workshops from the design team all the way up to the client . Installation issues were mitigated by the off-site manufacturing accuracies required and the ability to trial assemble elements of the structure within our workshop. Over 4000 man hours of production off-site in both the expressed internal frame and the inverted concealed timber panellised roof.
There are 86 Portal frames in 22 differing patterns, 56 Rafters in 14 differing patterns,86 portal/rafter intersection connections in 22 differing patterns and 26 portal/perimeter intersection connections in 7 different patterns. This gives an approximate total of 26 cubic metres of Glulam timber taking over 10 weeks to install on site.
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon - The interior is stunning in its simplicity
Martin Wareham added "Beard Construction and all of the contractors involved have had to jump through a lot of hoops to construct this building especially the stone masons at the quarry and on site. I know RIBA recognise the architects but I would like to see everyone recognised for their fantastic efforts on this building. The building itself does create a lasting impression on everyone working on it or indeed visiting. Whether you are religious or not we all found it very moving, it is an awe inspiring space. We have worked with many buildings which may not stand out in the memory but this one will stay with you forever. We knew from the architects at the start that this project was going to be 'a bit special'.
Ripon College Cuddesdon has around 150 students training for ordained ministry in the Anglican Church and a growing number preparing for Reader, Pioneer and a variety of lay ministries. It is the largest provider of ordination training in the UK, and has trained a third of current Bishops, Deans and Archdeacons in the Church of England.
The new chapel has already raised the college's profile and I am sure will go on to influence the chosen destination for ecclesiastical students for many years to come. For such a modest sized building it has made a huge impression on everyone involved in its construction.
For those architects who are reluctant to use Natural Stone it has again showed what a flexible and sustainable medium it can be in the right hands. Whilst we all have to embrace the modern technology in today's construction industry these methods can co-exist with good old fashioned craftsmanship. Hi tech stone cutting technology reduces waste and recycles water so that nothing is wasted but the highly skilled artisans are only custodians and these talents need to be passed on to the next generation. The Bishop Edward King Chapel bears testament to the incredible levels of specialist expertise that remain in the UK construction industry. Perhaps what is more important is that when many of the steel and glass structures have come and gone this will still remain as a showcase not only for 21st century construction and design but also the alliance between technology and craftsmanship.
All images ©Front Elevation - www.frontelevation.co.uk
For more information on this project try these links
Beard Construction - www.beard-construction.co.uk
Niall McLaughlin Architects - www.niallmclaughlin.com
Szerelmey Ltd - www.szerelmey.com
Harrison Goldman - www.harrisongoldman.com
Cowley Timber - www.cowleytimberwork.co.uk
Ripon College - www.rcc.ac.uk
Front Elevation - www.frontelevation.co.uk
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