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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Windmill Hill in Aylesbury, England by Stephen Marshall Architects

July 12th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Stephen Marshall Architects

Stephen Marshall Architects designs a new home for the Rothschild Foundation and the Waddesdon Archives at Windmill Hill in the heart of the Waddesdon Estate.

View of the Reading Room through the garden (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

  • Architects: Stephen Marshall Architects
  • Project: Windmill Hill
  • Location: Aylesbury, England
  • Photography: Richard Bryant
  • Software used: VectorWorks

Windmill Hill (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

June 2011 sees the launch of Windmill Hill, a new building complex on the Waddesdon Estate that will serve as a research and archive centre for Waddesdon and a home for the philanthropic work of the Rothschild Foundation.

Windmill Hill (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

Since the 19th century, the Rothschild family has been committed to a long distinguished tradition of philanthropy. Central to this vision is the ongoing support of Waddesdon Manor, the house built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the 1870s to entertain the fashionable world and act as a home for his magnificent collections. The property, shaped by four generations of the Rothschild family, was bequeathed to the National Trust by James de Rothschild in 1957, with the intention to preserve the house and its contents in perpetuity. It is one of the only surviving Rothschild properties, out of the 44 built in the 19th Century, that remains intact and is open for the public to enjoy, and this is a commitment continued by the present Lord Rothschild through the Rothschild Foundation.

Windmill Hill (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

The creation of Windmill Hill is an extension of this commitment, as it will house the Manor, Estate and Family Archives, including the personal papers of the Rothschilds who have been responsible for Waddesdon. The intention is for Windmill Hill to become a principle centre for study, research and outreach in the fields that Waddesdon represents: the arts, heritage, culture, conservation, the environment and horticulture.

Windmill Hill (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

The buildings will also become the home of The Rothschild Foundation and its wider philanthropic work.  The Foundation will use the unique setting of Waddesdon and Windmill Hill to host debates and round table discussions addressing some of today’s key issues; to stimulate debate and policy across a broad range of topics, such as the environment, horticulture, green technology; business and social entrepreneurship; the Middle East, and protecting Britain’s heritage.

Central courtyard looking west (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

The buildings at Windmill Hill have been designed by Stephen Marshall Architects, a practice that has significant experience of working in cultural contexts.  The site was previously a dairy farm, and the layout of the new scheme broadly follows the footprint of the farm buildings, and where possible has re-used them.  There are strong references to the agricultural past through the groupings of the buildings around a courtyard, with the Reading Room and archive stores on one side and the Rothschild Foundation on the other, and through the materials chosen – notably oak windows and shutters, rendered walls, wood cladding and zinc roofs. Vertical louvers provide a strong visual and practical feature.  Historically, these protected cattle sheds from wind while allowing fresh air to circulate. Now they shield the Reading Room from excess direct light. Environmental considerations have been a priority in the building design.  Heating is provided by ground source heat pumps, driven by heat piles and the archive store is one of Britain’s largest naturally cooled such spaces, with walls 1.5 m thick that create a stable internal environment.  Additionally, a greywater recycling system with 99% UV protection prevents solar glare and heating.

Desk in the Interior of the Reading Room (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

The site benefits from gloriously unspoiled views that Stephen Marshall Architects’ design frames, captures and emphasises wherever possible, with the landscaping adapted to form a “cradle” for the new project.

Looking east across the southern courtyard to the offices (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

The three activities – archive space and reading room, offices for archive staff and the archive stores themselves – are formed around three sides of a sloping garden with the fourth side open to the south.  The dramatic western view in particular is framed within a large opening defined by a 25m beam.  Even the approach road has been diverted to give distant views of the Manor.  The courtyard to the south of  the Reading Room is formed as a continuous rolling grass surface which draws the eye to the landscape  beyond  and can be used as an extension of the room in fine weather.

Oak shutters to the entrance (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

The entry courtyard is a key element of the complex, uniting the buildings, but also, through its formal landscaped garden, providing a suitably emphatic point of arrival for the whole project.  Stephen Marshall Architects have conceived it as a large outdoor room, a minimal space that over time will house sculpture and rare planting.  Reflective pools run the length of the west and east sides of the courtyard and enhance the serenity of the space.

Reading Room at night (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

The supporting office spaces are within a two-storey space on the north side of the courtyard garden, opposite the reading room and archive store.  The buildings echo each other in external form, but the reading room is a double height, single storey space.  Simplicity is key to the design, so lights are recessed out of view into oak gridshell roofs in the reading room and gallery and the buildings are heated from below.  Classic modern furniture has been used, primarily Charles Eames and Vitra, while the reading room tables, designed by Stephen Marshall Architects, are formed from large, cantilevered slabs of oak.

The eastern entrance from the existing farmhouse (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

Stephen Marshall says: “It has been a privilege, to work with such a stunningly beautiful site and to be able to make formal planted courtyards within the bigger Waddesdon landscape. Everyone was a joy to work with and Lord Rothschild was highly supportive in getting the building, with its innovative structure, built. As architects we always think at this stage the building is finished, but of course as people, furniture and objects of art move in, it is very much the beginning of life for the Windmill Hill building”.

The new archive group from above (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

Pippa Shirley, Head of Collections at Waddesdon Manor, says “this has been an incredibly rare and exciting opportunity to create, from scratch, a contemporary archive which will not only preserve the collections in the best conditions, but provide access to them in a setting which has been assembled with as much of an eye for beauty, comfort and landscape as Baron Ferdinand brought to the creation of Waddesdon Manor itself”.

The rolling lawn with oak clad archive (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)


  • Waddesdon Manor was built in 1877 by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to display his outstanding collection of art treasures and to entertain the fashionable world. It combines the highest quality 18th century French decorative arts, magnificent English portraits and Dutch Old Master paintings with one of the finest Victorian gardens in Britain, famous for its parterre and ornate working Aviary.  The house was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1957 and is now managed by a family charitable trust under the chairmanship of Lord Rothschild.

View looking west through oak gates (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

  • Waddesdon is the most visited historic house among England’s National Trust properties. The collections are a reflection of the passions of the Rothschilds who created and have cared for Waddesdon, from Ferdinand de Rothschild, who built the Manor in the late 19th-century to Jacob, the present Lord Rothschild, through whom contemporary collecting has been revived.  The Coach House opened as a new venue for contemporary art exhibitions in the grounds of the Manor in April 2009 with a retrospective exhibition on the work of Angus Fairhurst, a collaboration with Arnolfini, Bristol and in 2010 showed “Glass Experiences”, an exhibition of contemporary chandeliers by Brazilian designers, the Campana brothers and the installation of Jeff Koons’Cracked Egg (Blue) in the Conservatory.  Two of the Campana’s light works, “Broken Dreams”, will be permanently installed at Windmill Hill along with Fairhurst’s gorilla sculpture entitled “A Couple of Differences Between Thinking and Feeling II’’.

View of Reading Room through garden (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

  • Visitors can also see sculpture in the grounds of the house by Sarah Lucas, Stephen Cox and in the house are paintings by Lucian Freud and David Hockney, as well as a specially commissioned contemporary chandelier by the German lighting designer Ingo Maurer.

View through Reading Room office in background (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

  • Waddesdon also works with design students from the Royal College of Art and art students from the Ruskin School of Art to develop innovative product for Waddesdon’s shop

Waddesdon Manor Windmill Hill (Image Courtesy Richard Bryant)

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