Tim Crocker, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Peter Cook
“An enfolding light fills the new church at Stanbrook Abbey, not with intensity and glare, but with enveloping gentleness” “Enfolding sunlight and resonant sound are the most elusive elements to achieve in building a church, and the sisters with their architect have brought both light and sound to the level of pre-eminent quality in Stanbrook Abbey church. The most gentle human actions set the vibrant place humming.” An Enfolding Light, by Daniel McCarthy OSB Extracted from the publication ‘Dedication of the Abbey Church 6 September 2015’. A commemorative issue of Stanbrook Benedictines, No 8 Advent 2015 http://danielmccarthyosb.com/introduction/
Project text In Brief Stanbrook Abbey is a new home for the Conventus of Our Lady of Consolation, a Benedictine community of nuns who devote their lives to study, work and prayer. Relocating from their old Victorian home in Worcestershire, the nuns’ contemplative way of life required spaces that were simple, tranquil and beautiful, or as they put it in their monastic vision brief, a place where they could ‘pray always’. Located in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park the new site was chosen by the nuns for its “special quality of silence and light” providing them with a peaceful setting for their contemplative life and far-reaching views over the Vale of York. The project was completed over two phases. Phase I, completed in 2009, included 26 new cells for the nuns along the southern edge of the site, shared kitchen and dining facilities and work rooms. Phase II, completed in 2015, involved the construction of the new Community Church and Chapel, meeting rooms and guest accommodation. Context Benedictine orders have historic links to Yorkshire going back to the 7th Century, when the first Benedictine Abbey was built in Whitby. There is a rich tradition of Monasticism in the area, both ancient and living, with sites such as Rievaulx, Byland and Ampleforth in close proximity. The nuns’ original Monastery had been purpose built for them (designed by Pugin) in the mid-19th Century but it was rapidly becoming expensive and restricting with substantial fuel and repair bills. The buildings were austere and cold. Window cills were deliberately too high to see out of. Their numbers had dwindled from 80 to approximately 25 residents, so the need was for a new location and monastery designed for their 21st Century life. Design Approach The brief required part of the monastery to be entirely private for an enclosed order and other areas fully available and welcoming to the public. Access to the building is from the approach road to the east side and the views and sunshine are to the south. All shared areas therefore had to be positioned on the east, with service areas to the north, leaving the west and south to enjoy uninterrupted privacy and distant views. From a distance the rising curvilinear forms of the Church and the Chapel break through the horizon of the forest behind. The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, an essential element of the liturgy, rises even higher than the adjacent church and the cross shaped window dominates its interior space and proclaims the purpose of the building. The curving wall descends to provide enclosure to the outer courtyard. It is punctured in two places, firstly by an opening cut next to the chapel which gives both legibility to the openness of the courtyard behind and hints at the extent of the chapel volume and enclosure and secondly to create a dignified and simple series of steps up to the front entrance. Once inside the building there is a domestic quality to the simple public meeting spaces, the parlours and the access corridor, against what was the outside face of phase 1, the first layer of 'the enclosure'. Moving from these spaces into the church the volumetric contrast is powerful, as is the increase in daylight and the change in the acoustics of the space. At first the Nuns were quite interested in curving organic forms but the qualities they valued most strongly were simplicity, tranquillity and calmness. Their living spaces are therefore based around a simple orthogonal plan centred on a traditional enclosed cloister with one side open to the view to the south. The church and chapel, however, provide a more organic counterpoint to the orthogonal plan. The church is designed around the two liturgical axes that are derived from the teachings of St Benedict. The “Eucharistic” axis is derived from the monastery geometry and traces the line down the centre of the church focused on the altar along which the nuns process into church six times a day. The Monastic axis sets up a counterpoint running diagonally across the Eucharistic axis which it crosses at the centre of the church known as the Omphalos . This is marked by encaustic tiles set into the stone floor which were brought from old Stanbrook Abbey. This axis defines the structural geometry of the building as it rises from the congregational entrance though to the high point of the church. The increase in height provides additional volume to give a greater reverberation time to suit the chanting that is an essential part of each service, but it also provides that sense of space which the sisters describe as “Ascendence”. The liturgical layout was discussed in detail with the sisters and also with Father Daniel McCarthy OSB who has studied the architecture and layout of Benedictine churches throughout history and around the world. The sisters spend five hours a day in their choir stalls chanting antiphonally to each other, bowing, kneeling, praying, sitting and standing. The choirstalls form two elliptical shapes in plan, which face each other but also embrace the altar. The ambience of the church changes with the direction of the light throughout the day and the year. During the morning services direct sunlight will enter through a concealed vertical slot window behind the alter, which extends up into a rooflight that bathes the curved wall. During the afternoon the structural timber fin-columns reflect the light onto the altar but also create patterns across the floor. At evensong the evening sun floods in from the back of the church. Materials Indigenous and natural materials were chosen where possible, so the stone walls are made from thin layers of local sandstone using offcuts from a local paving manufacturer. The altar is a single piece of sandstone decorated to the designs by Claudio Pastro, from a local quarry. The Choirstalls, made by John Griffiths, and the organ by Robin Jennings, are of English sycamore. The cladding on the south elevation is all indigenous air dried oak boarding, which when weathered will become reminiscent of the barn-like farm buildings that are part of the traditional architecture of the North York Moors National Park Sustainability The nuns were keen for the new Abbey to be both economic to run and sensitive to ecological and environmental concerns. Rainwater is collected in a tank created beneath the chapter house and used for WC flushing and irrigation. A biomass boiler, run on woodchips from a local supplier, provides all the heating. All the flat roofs are sedum and the building was designed to have a very immediate relationship to the sheep-shorn grassland around it, the timber clad south elevation rising out of the undulating grass-covered topography. Natural ventilation is used throughout the structure including to the church and chapel, which use wind protected stack vents at high level to draw air through the building. Heating pipework is integrated into the underfloor zone to warm the incoming air. Awards 2016 Wood Awards: Education and public sector 2016 EASA/National Churches Trust Presidents’ Award: New building 2016 RIBA Stirling Prize Midlist 2016 RIBA Regional Award 2016 RIBA Regional Building of The Year Award 2011 Local Authority Building Control, North East Yorkshire Building Excellence Awards: Best Community Building Award (PHASE one) 2010 Civic Trust Award (PHASE two)
Other text - 500 word statement Stanbrook Abbey is a new monastery in the North York Moors National Park for an enclosed order of Benedictine Nuns. The project involved relocating The Conventus of Our Lady of Consolation from their previous home, Stanbrook Abbey, near Worcester. The new site provides the community with the peaceful setting for their contemplative life with far-reaching views over the Vale of York. Planning Permission was by no means inevitable, as development within the National Park is heavily restricted. In the end the Planners were convinced they would have an exceptional building for an exceptional client. The brief called for a building which would enable this monastic community to live in a way which makes it possible for them to ‘pray always’. The design aimed to foster contemplation through its simplicity, beauty, sense of space and tranquillity, taking full advantage of natural light and views. The monastery relates closely to the surrounding undulating landscape. The Nuns’ brief also requested a monastery designed for the twenty-first century, economic to run and sensitive to ecological and environmental concerns. The layout is a response to both the site and the brief. Stanbrook is an enclosed order so part of the monastery needed to be entirely private, whilst other areas needed to be fully available and welcoming to the public; access to the building is from the east side; views and sunshine are to the south. All shared areas therefore had to be positioned on the east side of the building, with service areas to the north , leaving the west and south sides to enjoy uninterrupted privacy and views. At first the Nuns were interested in curving organic forms but the qualities they valued most strongly were simplicity, tranquillity and calm. The main living areas therefore are arranged in a simple orthogonal plan providing restful vistas and axes, with a courtyard/cloister to act as the central focus. The church and chapel, however, provide a more organic counterpoint to the orthogonal plan. The church is designed around the two liturgical axes that are inherent in the teachings of St Benedict. The Eucharistic axis is derived from the monastery geometry and is focused on the altar: the Monastic axis sets up a counterpoint running diagonally across it following the structural geometry of the building as it rises from the congregational entrance though to the high point of the church, evoking what the nuns refer to as a sense of “transcendence”. The first phase of the building, including 26 cells, each with an ensuite shower room together with shared kitchen, dining facilities and office accommodation, was completed in May 2009 with occupation following soon afterwards. The sale of the old Stanbrook Abbey released the funding to allow for the second phase to be constructed. This comprised the Church, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and the “parlours” which serve as consultation rooms where the nuns meet their friends from the world beyond their enclosure. The shell of the building was also built, subsequently to become visitor accommodation. The church was consecrated in October 2015. The third phase of the complex will build a library for the community’s 60,000 books, which are currently housed in shelves and boxes around the existing building, and an archive store for their extensive achive collection, some of which dates back to their foundation in 1623. The latter will mean that the collection can be fully catalogued and be made available as a resource not only for the community but for historians and research students. Sustainability Statement Although the project was designed ten years ago, it was constructed in phases. The first phase (the cells, kitchen, living quarters and chapter house) was completed in 2009 and the data in the table above was measured data from 2009 to 2010. At that stage the woodchip boiler was operating in a very temperamental fashion and the carbon recorded was assumed to be generated by the gas fired system, which is one reason for the high heat loads recorded. For various reasons the initial wood burning system never really worked and eventually, this year, it has been replaced by an entirely new boiler plant. We have not yet seen the impact of this on the energy consumption.
It was always the intention from the nuns that their new buildings should have as low a carbon cost as possible and have a minimum environmental impact. The key sustainability features built into the design were:
• A woodchip boiler. (The Forestry Commission owns a large area of land adjacent to the site and ultimately the Nuns would have been able to able source their timber from here). • Solar panels - to preheat hot water. • A reed bed sewage treatment system (in lieu of a sewage treatment plant). • Rainwater storage - for use in WCs, laundry and garden maintenance. • Sedum roofs - to reduce surface water run-off and maintain wildlife habitats. • Shading via deciduous plants provided to large areas of glass, so that more shade is provided in the summer than the winter. • Building materials locally sourced where possible, including the stone for walls and floors. Stone cladding to walls actually uses some waste/offcuts from paving material. • Very high levels of insulation and low energy appliances and fittings are used throughout the building. • Natural ventilation is used throughout including to the church and chapel which use wind-protected stack vents at high level to draw air through the building.