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Pavilions for Westwood Girls’ College for Languages and Art, and Virgo Fidelis Convent School, Croydon, by Duggan Morris

Modular school construction: Duggan Morris turns prefabricated components into site-specific pavilions for two schools, writes Felix Mara

Duggan Morris Architects’ sibling pavilions for two Croydon schools, Westwood Girls’ College for Languages and Art, and Virgo Fidelis Convent School, rose from the ashes of the BSF programme to open in the autumn terms of 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Virgo Fidelis was in fact completed after Westwood Girls’ College, but it seems logical to look at it first, because as a free-standing building it is a purer statement of Duggan Morris’ typology than Westwood, an appendage.

Funded by the Cooking Spaces initiative, part of a government programme to promote health and expand the perceived scope of cooking, it was intended that these facilities would be procured in conjunction with larger BSF projects. Most of the Cooking Spaces projects that Duggan Morris was commissioned to design, including others at Shirley High School and St Giles School in Croydon, proceeded after BSF was abandoned in July 2012. At the time that BSF was scrapped, education secretary Michael Gove questioned the role of architects in school design and advocated prefabricated, off-the-shelf modular design. Duggan Morris’ approach to these projects is especially interesting in the context of these remarks.

VIRGO

‘Our ambition was to show how a basic palette of materials with flat-pack and prefabricated components could, with design skill and ingenuity, create site- and programme-specific buildings to suit a range of needs,’ says director Joe Morris. It’s the caveat ‘with design skill and ingenuity’ that strikes at the Achilles’ heel of Gove’s logic. You can’t have good, or even adequate, design without designers. A little learning is a dangerous thing.

Duggan Morris’ emphasis on specific programmes and sites also challenges the perceived limitations of prefabrication and standardisation. ‘The pavilions were designed and procured as a suite, using the exact same construction method and materials, but adapted to suit the salient conditions of each site,’ says Morris.

westwood

Duggan Morris chose inexpensive components with short lead-in periods that were quick to assemble, such as lightweight metal structural insulated panels. ‘Construction techniques are not hidden by layers of unnecessary finishes and decoration, but left exposed and legible, so the pavilions read as very simple, basic shells,’ says Morris.

The expanded aluminium mesh that veils the pavilions would contradict this logic if you took it too literally, but its construction is legible and gives each pavilion its identity. Without the gold mesh finish of Vigo Fidelis and the silver mesh of Westwood, both chosen to coordinate with internal finishes, you would only see scaled-down versions of out of town proprietary sandwich panel-clad industrial units. This is the subtle ingredient of design skill and ingenuity that Morris sees as essential.

 

Project data

Virgo Fidelis

Start on site  May 2011
Contract duration 20 weeks
Gross internal floor area 125m2
Form of contract JCT Intermediate Form with subcontractors’ design portion
Total cost £285,000
Cost per square metre £2,280
Local authority London Borough of Croydon
Client Virgo Fidelis Convent School
Architect Duggan Morris Architects
Structural engineer Elliott Wood
Services consultant Peter Deer & Associates
Quantity surveyor Appleyard & Trew
Main contractor DW Bevan Limited
Estimated annual CO2 emissions 23.6kg/m2
Roof deck Corus acoustic metal profiled sheet decking
Roof insulation Kingspan rigid insulation set to fall
Roofing Sarnafil single-ply membrane roof system
Mesh cladding Ash & Lacey expanded aluminium mesh
Windows Smart system windows
Linoleum flooring Forbo

Westwood Girls’ College

Start on site May 2010
Contract duration 20 weeks
Gross internal floor area 135m2
Form of contract JCT Intermediate Form with subcontractors’ design portion
Total cost £300,000
Cost per square metre £2,222
Local authority London Borough of Croydon
Client Westwood Girls’ School
Architect Duggan Morris Architects
Structural engineer Elliott Wood
Services consultant Peter Deer & Associates
Quantity surveyor Appleyard & Trew
Main contractor DW Bevan Limited
Annual CO2 emissions 20.9kg/m2
Roof deck Corus acoustic metal profiled sheet decking
Roof insulation Kingspan rigid insulation set to fall
Roofing Sarnafil single-ply membrane roof system
Mesh cladding Ash & Lacey expanded aluminium mesh
Windows Smart system windows
Linoleum flooring Forbo

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