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Burntwood School by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

Class 2014: Burntwood School, Wandsworth, London by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

Allford Hall Monaghan Morris completed seven secondary schools within the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. Burntwood School, a large 2,000-pupil all-girl school with more than 200 staff in Wandsworth, is one of the final buildings procured through the BSF programme. We won the project with Lend Lease just as the coalition government came in and for three months the project was put on hold while the school’s fate was decided.

The BSF experience has been valuable. Learning to work with contractors from the earliest stages was challenging at first, but as we all got more experienced we started to see real advantages. Burntwood School was a great example of this collaboration. We had worked with Lend Lease on a school in Birmingham, so therefore knew how it approached construction. Burntwood School had the added ingredient of a school team that was passionate about modern design and prepared to ensure quality. Wandsworth Council had design at the top of its agenda, too.

The existing school was set out in a campus style designed by the local authority architects, with an elegant assembly hall designed by Leslie Martin. The brief demanded that this hall and an existing swimming pool were to be kept while all other buildings were to be demolished.

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We focused as much on how to construct the building as on how to design it. By examining it in this way, we were able to build a school without temporary accommodation and the monies set aside for this were put back into the main construction budget.

The final design consists of four teaching pavilions, a new sports hall and performing arts building. The layout arranges these buildings around gardens, lawns, squares and a central pedestrian spine - forming a legible diagram that is easily navigated.

The school’s team were not interested in some of the BSF clichés, and in particular wanted large classrooms with few breakout spaces. The pavilion typology has classrooms and ancillary accommodation arranged along a central corridor with voids and double-height spaces at the ends and laterally off it to connect to the exterior; thereby admitting natural light and making a visual connection to the campus. The pavilions have a consistent width defined by classroom depth and proportion. This regular plan is followed through to the elevation with the precast concrete cladding panels.

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It is a great pity that the new government scrapped BSF just when the whole industry was starting to understand it and were delivering well-designed schools for a good price. Of course there were issues with BSF: too many consultants, inconsistent design quality and a lack of confidence in the idea of anything repetitive. Almost everything needed to be a one-off.

I therefore welcomed the Priority School Building Programme, with its emphasis on creating standardised school models that had been tried and tested. The guidance notes were very rigorous - putting an emphasis on comfort and designing from the inside out. The only real trouble is that we are almost four years on and we have yet to see any of these projects built. Meanwhile teachers are continuing to have to teach in old and tired buildings because much of the existing school stock is dilapidated.

Paul Monaghan, director, AHMM

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