School Cafeterias Never Looked Like This

Maccreanor Lavington architects design a wooden refectory that will distract you from your food.

Ibstock refectory

Jack Hobhouse / Maccreanor Lavington

The only room I ever knew in school that was called a "refectory" was an ugly fluorescent-lit basement cafeteria at the University of Toronto. So when I saw this Ibstock Place School Refectory from Maccreanor Lavington Architects I looked up the word; it is "a room used for communal meals in an educational or religious institution" from the Latin "reficere," meaning to refresh, renew. According to project associate Tom Waddicor:

"This significant new building has been carefully crafted to embrace and enhance its beautiful landscape setting. A cloister offers a calm, collegiate quality to the building’s approach. Inside, an intricate lattice timber structure rises to three glazed lanterns lending a befitting grandeur to the refectory – the communal heart of the school."

Exterior walkway

Jack Hobhouse / Maccreanor Lavington

Unlike your usual loud basement cafeteria, this one was actually designed to be "a calm, quiet and – critically – enjoyable space; allowing hundreds of pupils to dine simultaneously whilst being able to have a conversation with those immediately next to them," which is unheard of.

wood detail of ceiling

Jack Hobhouse / Maccreanor Lavington

It's on Treehugger because of the remarkable use of wood, with a glue-laminated lattice structure with inset panels of oak, "designed to incorporate acoustic absorption to soften the background clatter of dining." Also, because of the shading and ventilation.

interior with walkway in background

Jack Hobhouse / Maccreanor Lavington

"The form of the building is designed to moderate the internal environment without air conditioning. The cloister to the west elevation acts as a practical rain cover for pupils queuing for lunch and additionally shades the interiors from afternoon sun, preventing summertime overheating. The roof lanterns form a chimney to draw hot, stale air out of the building through high level louvre windows and allow natural light to flood the spaces below."

The project was the winner of an architectural competition, which almost always results in more interesting buildings than you ever get in North America, where, as architect Mike Eliason notes, almost everything is done through a Request for Proposals or RFP. In much of Europe, this is how young architects get their start and how older architects get to show their talent; Maccreanor Lavington has been around since 1992 and has an interesting body of work.

In North America, this would be called a private school where one pays significant tuition, but I doubt there is as beautiful a dining room in any of the fanciest ones. The architects say "we recognised the importance of lunchtimes in supporting the emotional and social development of pupils and wanted to create a building that was uplifting and celebratory." It also has "full commercial kitchen with specialist pastry room" – I wonder if the food is as good as the building.

view of interior and walkway

Jack Hobhouse / Maccreanor Lavington