HSOBC Boathouse

Headington School is an independent day and boarding school for girls in Oxford. Rowing was introduced in 1991, and over the past 30 years more than 120 girls have rowed for Team GB and the club has produced an Olympian who has competed at the last four Olympics. Despite its success, and the sport’s popularity across all years of the school, the boat club had never owned its own boathouse, instead sharing facilities with a nearby school. However, after a long search, an eight-acre site known as Maddy Moorings, was purchased in the village of Long Wittenham and plans for a new boathouse could begin.

The riverside plot presented many challenges due to its location and previous undeveloped status. There were complex issues surrounding ownership, access, boundaries, highways, drainage, ecology and bringing new utilities to the site, which involved digging up long stretches of the main road to the nearest connections. All works within 10m of the river, including wet docks, pontoons and regrading of riverbanks had to be carefully coordinated with the relevant specialists and a separate Environment Agency Permit obtained, allowing the works to be carried out. The site is susceptible to annual flooding so often that the neighbouring farmer had constructed raised walkways along the road from their property. Our plan for the new boathouse was to substantially raise it on steel columns of more than two metres above the natural ground level.

Orientated to sit in a natural space in the existing treescape, and with most of the trees on site retained, the building is well screened from view when travelling south along the river. When travelling north, with the existing landscape retained and the boathouse set back and nestled into the landscape, it is also largely concealed.

A distinctive landing ramp links the riverside to the building, where a standing seam metal clad box projects from the timber façade, with a club room balcony that has views downriver. At almost 5000 sq ft, the distinctive wildflower roof improves the site’s biodiversity, and with the Thermowood slatting facades, helps the building blend into its rural setting. The mono-pitch roof breaks away from the usual boathouse form and reflects the rhythms, movement and ergonomics associated with rowing. The repetition of the slipways along the bank suggest the movement of oars in water.

Sustainability is at the heart of this project. Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHPs) with heat recovery are the sole source of heating and water, there are no gases or oils onsite and electric charging points have been installed. Ecological improvements include the regrading of steep riverbanks, the enhancement and management of wet woodland habitats, improved water vole habitats and new bat crevices in the building’s cladding and neighbouring trees.

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