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St Patrick's School extension, London, by Coffey Architects

Coffey Architects’ thoughtful extension at St Patrick’s School in north London has given pupils an inspiring space to read, play music and perform. Photography by Tim Soar

‘Less is More’ would seem to sum up this tiny, ingenious school extension providing a library, music room and store, said the RIBA jury of Coffey Architects’ smart, tough, thoughtful project in London’s Kentish town.

The extension is effectively just one volume - but one which has been manipulated to provide a number of different spaces. These include a mezzanine gallery, a central performance ‘stage’ that extends outwards into the playground and is sheltered by a canopy (“an informal proscenium for play ” said the jury) and finely crafted staircase and bookcases, with built-in benches, that line the interior on three sides.

Practice director Phil Coffey explains that the brief initially asked that the extension be placed on the roof. This proved cost prohibitive - inclusive access was central to the extension’s remit - and Coffey argued in favour of using a corner plot. If developed, he suggested, it would “make a significant difference to the school in terms of its place in the community, its relationship to parents and ongoing entrance issues, the possibility of relating to external teaching spaces, and most importantly to create a wonderful space to inspire children that they could relate to as the symbol of their school.”

It was the right decision: the relocation successfully connects the school to the immediate townscape as well as creating a stronger relationship with the existing school building and its playground.

Early in the design process, the children were taken outside to sit in the proposed location of the building and read and play musical instruments to each other, connecting them with the space and the idea of having a new, special room.

There was one other smart move: by creating a separate building - it does not physically attach to the existing aschool building - the project was not subject to VAT, an unforeseen cost saving which directed funds back into design.

Credits

Start on site July 2010
Contract duration 30 weeks
Gross internal floor area 73m²
Procurement JCT ICD 05
Total cost £383,000
Cost per m² £5,205, including canopy, covered walkway, perimeter fencing and minor refurbishment
Client St Patrick’s Primary School (Diocese of Westminster)
Architect Coffey Architects
Structural engineer Rodrigues Associates
M&E consultant ConServ
Quantity surveyor Stockdale
Acoustic consultant PGA Acoustics
Main contractor Bolt and Heeks
CDM co-ordinator North Laine Design
Approved building inspector MLM Building Control
Estimated annual CO2 emissions 16.9kg/m² (SBEM calculation)

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