The Twentieth Century Society

100 Buildings 100 Years

1954: Smithdon High School, Hunstanton

Type: Education
Architect: Alison and Peter Smithson
Location: Downs Road, Hunstanton, Norfolk, PE36 5HY

Alison Smithson was 21, Peter 26, when in 1950 they won a competition for a secondary school in Hunstanton. The symmetrical plan is traditional, its central hall placed between two courtyards, around which classrooms and laboratories are set on the upper floors over ground-floor corridors, offices and cloakrooms.

A welded steel frame, designed on the principle of plastic design that there is no weak point, was inspired by classical forms and Mies van der Rohe. Inside, the unadorned steel ceilings and exposed plumbing are striking. Use of off-the-peg components culminates in a centrally-placed Braithwaite tank.

Alison coined the term New Brutalism to stand for truth to materials and found objects, but it was appropriated by later concrete expressionism, very different to Hunstanton. The direct glazing into the steel frame shattered when the building overheated, solved by introducing wooden sub-frames and black dado panels. The school is now in glorious condition and is much loved.

by Elain Harwood