Greswolde Construction

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St. Martin's School, Solihull


St Martins EntranceGreswolde teams are working very carefully alongside a precious piece of history as they build Glenn Howells Architects striking new performing arts facility at Saint Martin's School in Solihull. 

Construction work on the dramatic £1.5 million state-of-the-art building is just 2.5 metres from a curtilage-listed Grade II brick wall, which is all that remains of the original walled gardens of the 17th century Malvern Hall that has housed the popular school since 1989.  Fittingly, the five metre wall, probably sketched by artist John Constable on one of his two visits to the Hll is reflected in the design. "The wall wraps round the new building, offering privacy to students and performers, who also get views out on to it," explains Glenn Howells Architect Paul Miller.  "From the main entrance you can see straight through the building to the wall at the back."

Greswolde's first job was excavating piles of earth to accommodate the performance space which has been sunk two metres into the ground to minimise the impact on the environment.  "That meant 300 lorries coming in and out, so we did that in the summer holidays," says Project Manager and Greswolde Associate Director Chris Harrison.  "Now that it is term time, we have very strictly planned delivery times and provide escorts to and from the site, to ensure we impact on school life as little as possible."

The 400 pupils are keeping an enthusiastic eye on their emerging new facility, which will add to Saint Martin's reputation in providing the very best education for girls from Nursery through to Sixth Form.  Head Jane Carwithen say: "We are all very excited about the development which will enable the girls and the community to benefit from these specialist facilities."

Equipped with the latest theatre systems, the steel-framed low embodied-energy building, constructed from pre-fabricated timber panels, provides a flexible space to accommodate a 130-seater theatre, a dance studio and teaching and lecture rooms.  A large area of glazing will flood the double height naturally ventilated foyer and teaching space with natural light and there is a green roof, planted with sedum.  "It is an impressive design and it is a very exciting project, which will reinforce the school's very strong adademic position," says Saint Martin's Bursar Simon Brown.

The building marks the final phase of a three-tier development completed by Glenn Howells Architects, with whom Greswolde has also worked previously at the school. "We have a long standing relationship with the team and we are delighted to be back on site," adds MD Malcolm Priest.

THE Malvern Hall garden wall is an important link with the past, when Humphrey Greswold, son of Henry, the Rector of Solihull, built the manor house in about 1690.  "The retention of the wall as part of the setting of the performance building and wider grounds of the Hall and stable block, was an important consideration for the planning committee," says a Solihull Council spokesman.  "The wall illustrates the development of the country house and its important service buildings and structures, food production being supported by the walled gardens and preserved using the product of the nearby late 18th century brick ice house."

Henry Greswold Lewis had the hall remodelled and enlarged in 1783 by Sir John Soane shortly after his three year study period in Italy.  The results were captured by John constable in 1809 when he spent a month painting and sketching.  He returned to the Hall in 1820 and produced four more paintings. 

Malver Hall was converted in 1931 to become Solihull High School for Girls and is now the main administrative buildin for Saint Martin's School, which purchased the site in 1989.