Secondary School Building, the German School


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
The German School, Douglas House, Petersham Road, Richmond, TW10 7AH


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Statutory Address:
The German School, Douglas House, Petersham Road, Richmond, TW10 7AH

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Richmond upon Thames (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


School building for the German School, London. Executive architects Kersten, Martinoff and Struhk, joint executive architects W H Marmorek and Clifford Culpin and Partners (job architects Dr Walter Marmorek, Colin Bennett, Martin Arnold with George Jelinek, Michael Paul, Tony Donald and Colin Hobart), designed in 1972, built in 1978-1981.

Reasons for Designation

The secondary school building at the German School, Ham, built in 1978-1981 as the main school building for the German School, London, by the architects Kersten, Martinoff and Struhk, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: a prestigious and sensitive design, built on a generous budget, providing new school facilities for the expanding German School, London, designed by established German architects, to a standard that is unusual in a school context; * Structure and materials: the combined use of a space frame roof and traditional concrete frame construction, executed in durable, high quality materials, detailed and finished to an exemplary standard; * Plan: an imaginative, flowing plan, laid out on two levels, designed to accommodate an open forum, shared public spaces, generous circulation areas and adaptable teaching facilities; * Degree of alteration: designed to be internally flexible, the building is little altered, retaining many of its fixtures and fittings, including light fittings, and elements of the original colour scheme; * Historic interest: commissioned through competition by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1971 for the newly established and growing German School.


The Deutsche Schule London was established by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1971 at Douglas House, Ham, (a late-C17 and C18 house, listed Grade II*), to offer German-speaking education for the children of diplomats and businessmen temporarily working in London. In the long term Douglas House was not suitable for educational purposes, becoming the administrative offices, while the expansion of the school from 450 to 650 places at primary and secondary level required a large and prestigious extension. A limited competition was held, and won by the partnership of Volker Kersten, Erich Martinoff and Hans Struhk of Braunschweig in Lower Saxony. The German firm of WH Marmorek and the UK-based Clifford Culpin and Partners were appointed to undertake the production drawings, to obtain the necessary planning and building regulations and to supervise construction, which required minor changes to the design.

The winning entry of 1972 recognised that the school’s sensitive location in riparian parkland next to Ham House necessitated two low and spreading structures, a main school building, and a sports hall, each dominated by a massive roof. The value of the contract – £5.5m in 1978 – was three times that of a British state secondary school, and permitted a finesse of detailing and finishes more characteristic of university building than schools.

Constructed from 1978, the new buildings were ready for use for the autumn term of 1981. On completion the buildings were generally well-received in the architectural press, while staff and pupils spoke favourably of them, feeling at home in their new environment. The headmaster concluded that despite some faults with the acoustics and ventilation, all-in-all the architects' plan had proved to be a successful one.

The headmaster noted too that due to unforeseen circumstances, by 1981 the school needed more space than the buildings could provide. The school continues to expand. The main building now accommodates secondary classrooms while primary level children are housed in a new block (not under assessment) next to the sports hall. The sports hall has been demolished and is being replaced (2017) by more extensive sports facilities. Discussions are underway to extend the dining area to the south-west; additional seating is currently provided in a temporary structure.

Standing in the grounds is a section of the Berlin wall. It commemorates the unification of Germany and demolition of the wall, at which point the German government distributed a section of the Berlin wall to each German school.

Kersten, Martinoff and Struhk have an impressive portfolio of work, including swimming pools in Ahrensburg, the Kurgastzentrum (conference centre and spa), Braunlage (1977), Wolfsberg planetarium (1981-1983) and designs for or collaboration on German embassies in Riyadh, Washington, Riga, and Talinn, indicative of a substantial firm working in the public sector, and with an eye to placing buildings in the landscape.


Secondary school building, built as the main school building for the German School, London. Executive architects Kersten, Martinoff and Struhk, joint executive architects WH Marmorek and Clifford Culpin and Partners (job architects Dr Walter Marmorek, Colin Bennett, Martin Arnold with George Jelinek, Michael Paul, Tony Donald and Colin Hobart), designed in 1972, built in 1978-1981.

STRUCTURE AND MATERIALS: the complex design required two contrasting constructional techniques. The two-storey classroom section has an in situ reinforced concrete frame, set out on a 7.2m grid, with a lightweight waffle slab. The tubular space frame roof provided the solution for the wide span of the single-storey forum and dining area. The structure is complemented by a simple palette of high quality materials: hand-made buff facing brick, originally, lead cladding and roofs, and window and external door units in anodised bronze. Internally the concrete frame is exposed and generally unpainted, walls are finished in fair-faced brick, or formed of painted panels; glazed partitions and door units are timber, flooring is of buff paviors. The space frame is brown painted steel, balustrades and door furniture are anodised bronze or steel. In many areas the original light fittings remain in place, along with the original brown and ochre colour scheme. Services are exposed in both areas of the building.

PLAN: the main school building is polygonal on plan comprising a single-storey south-facing forum or communal space and dining room, beneath a space frame roof, and two storeys of teaching accommodation to the north, arranged on an L plan, organised around circulation routes or 'streets' leading north to the sports hall and east to Douglas House.

Designed to be internally flexible, there is a sense of space and movement in the full-height forum, in the open junction between the forum and classroom ranges and in the corridors. Non load-bearing walls were used throughout the ground floor and partitions on both levels were intended to be moveable. From the eastern entrance lobby broad steps descend to the forum, an open performance and meeting space, the equivalent of the enclosed hall in British schools, that could also provide semi-public facilities to the community. Leading off it is the dining room and kitchen, library, conference room and music rooms, with the staff room at the centre. Initially the latter was open to the roof, but was quickly enclosed by glass partitions.

The ground-floor is laid out with single, originally subject-specific rooms, and paired classrooms, with wide intervening group spaces and cloakrooms, as well as science laboratories and arts and crafts workshops. On the smaller, set-back upper floor, reached by a monumental internal stair, there are two axes of classrooms, with an open-plan space at the intersection, overlooking the forum. Classrooms were designed with storage space built into the inner partition, expressed as an offset in the corridors.

EXTERIOR: the form and treatment of the building was intended to minimise the impact of a large volume in a sensitive location. Its horizontal form is marked vertically by modular window units and roof sections. The southern section, beneath the space frame roof, has a glazed envelope of canted anodised bronze window units, with integral blinds, on a shallow brick parapet wall. Blind classroom walls are brick faced, or on the upper level clad in lead, splayed at the base. Classroom windows also have integral blinds and ventilation units. Throughout, it has flat, hipped roofs with pronounced ribs and deep over sailing eaves.

INTERIOR: the space frame roof is supported on steel posts rising from facetted concrete drum shafts, the steel framework spaying at the head into a series of branches, described as resembling trees in an orchard, and connected with bold spherical joints. The reinforced concrete frame is supported on facetted reinforced concrete piers with splayed heads, which line the corridors, as if creating internal avenues. Wide corridors are flanked by classrooms lit by glazed partitions and clerestory units, while some internal brick-faced walls have large porthole windows. Internal door and window units have channelled frames, and flush panel classroom doors have integral porthole windows and handles.

The materials and execution are of high quality, and the original colour scheme a tempered combination of buff brickwork and paviors punctuated by grey exposed concrete, with ochre wall panels - some now painted turquoise - and dark stained or painted wood. Aside from a small number of classrooms, the concrete frame remains unpainted, while in some classrooms the waffle ceiling is also exposed. From its inception noise was a problem and additional cladding, suspended ceilings and insulation have been added.


Books and journals
Down, P, 'First Class' in Building Services, , Vol. 4, no.10, (Oct 1982), 25-28
'School extension to sport a unique roof' in New Civil Engineer, , Vol. no.344, (17 May 1979), 40-42
'Deutsche Schule London' in Baumeister, , Vol. 70, no 2, (Feb 1973), 174-175
Anthony Williams and Partners, 'Upper Form', in Building, vol. 243, no. 7252 (31), 30 July 1982, p 31.40


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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