Peace and quiet
Stanbrook Abbey is a new sanctuary for the Benedictine Nuns, who relocated from their Victorian home in Worcester in search of a contemplative life in tranquil surroundings. Set within the serene splendour of the North Yorkshire National Park, the modern abbey comprises private spaces and accommodation for the nuns, as well as a community church and chapel, a chapter house, and visitor areas.
One of the primary reasons for the nuns’ move to Yorkshire was to get closer to the land, in order to pursue a more sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle. The new abbey had to reflect this aim by creating simple, quiet spaces suited to contemplation, within a building that was ecologically sensitive in design and economic to run.
Working alongside the architect, our engineers developed concepts that embraced the sustainable ethos at the heart of this project. Taking a highly creative approach to the structural design, they devised bespoke components that could perform several roles. For example, the curved, reinforced concrete walls are simultaneously loadbearing, shear and retaining, so at once support the roof elements, compensate for the variation in ground level and provide overall stability.
The materials for the structure were also chosen with ease of construction on this remote site at the forefront of our minds. Most are lightweight, and can be manually handled, which reduced the need for large machinery to navigate the narrow country roads. Where possible we replaced structural steel with locally sourced timber, and clad the building in a combination of oak boarding and sandstone formed from the recycled offcuts of a nearby paving manufacturer. As well as being environmentally sound, the use of indigenous materials makes the abbey appear ‘as one’ with its natural surroundings.
Our sustainable engineering solutions also supported the minimal interior aesthetic. We employed natural ventilation strategies throughout, incorporating a void under the precast ground floor of the church and chapel area. This generated a fresh air supply at low level, which was then drawn right through the building via wind-protected stack vents mounted up high.
This solution saved the expense of laying ductwork, and also created an underground distribution route for other services which helped maintain the minimal aesthetic of the architect’s design. Other sustainable features include a wood chip boiler, solar panels, low energy fittings, a reed bed sewage system that uses natural algae to purify liquid effluent, and a sedum roof that not only boosts the ecological credentials of the abbey, but also provides additional heat and noise insulation.
The combination of unique architectural vision and engineering ingenuity realised a heavenly abbey that is deeply connected to its surroundings. In addition, our team was able to ground the far-reaching design in a methodical approach to construction, which ensured we delivered this inspiring project on time and to budget.
2015: Structural Engineering Excellence Awards, at Yorkshire Regional Group, Winner
2016: Wood Awards, (Education & Public Sector Category), Winner
2016: ICE Smeaton Awards, Certificate of Excellence
2016: EASA/ National Churches Trust Presidents’ Award: New Building, Winner
2016: RIBA Yorkshire Awards, RIBA Yorkshire Building of the Year, Winner
Services and approach
When we integrate our specialist teams around an approach, the benefits to the client multiply