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Constructing the team: Patel Taylor's Lowther Primary School

[School design] The client’s ambitious vision underpinned our masterplan for Lowther Primary School, writes Patel Taylor director Andrew Taylor. Photography by Tim Soar

Patel Taylor has been involved with Lowther Primary School, a dynamic community primary school, since 2006, when we were commissioned to produce a phased masterplan for the redevelopment of the site. From the outset, the school had a strong vision and aspiration to create quality learning environments, backed up by a belief that these would make a tangible difference to children’s learning and help engender a sense of pride in their school.

This was an ambitious project, where delight and beauty were held to be more important than ‘managing client expectations’. The key principles of our masterplan were founded on that vision and, while still controlling its commercial interest in the scheme, the local authority let it happen with flexibility and sensitivity. This set the tone for the rest of the development and the relationships built during the design and construction of phase 1 helped set a benchmark of quality and a spirit of collaboration which was carried forward into phase 2.

The success of this project was built on productive, collaborative relationships between ourselves, the school, local authority and contractor,which enabled us to bring together the architectural, urban design and landscape strategies into a masterplan which could be delivered incrementally while maintaining a cohesive whole that was true to the vision of the school.

The principles established in the masterplan informed the architecture of the first phase and enabled us to develop a scheme which exceeded the client’s and end-users’ expectations and gave a framework within which to maximise the potential of a tight budget. High-quality, inspiring spaces have been delivered to standard education budgets by focusing money on key areas and creating efficient plans which eliminate corridors and create multifunctional circulation space. Our masterplan strategy also proved robust enough to absorb changes in the brief as external pressures put additional demands on the school to cater for bulge classes and transforming into a two-form entry school.

Phase 1 of the masterplan, procured under a traditional contract, was completed in 2009. A new extension to the east was built to replace an ageing nursery building. The £1.4 million budget also included upgrading and reorganising the entrance and administration spaces and creating flexible community facilities.

The school worked closely with ouselves and the local authority throughout the design process to develop the brief, which moulded the building to their requirements - in stark contrast to other schools projects where contractual barriers are often put between architect and end user, making meaningful dialogue impossible. It was important that the contractor bought into the collaborative spirit and that their ambition matched that of the project. This was achieved by carefully selecting a shortlist of contractors and keeping the school involved with interviews.

Phase 2, completed in September 2012 under a Design and Build contract, effectively doubled the size of school, taking it from single-form entry to two-form entry, through the construction of a new build two-storey extension. Through careful masterplanning, Patel Taylor was able to increase the external play space.

Retaining the architects and contractor meant the collaborative spirit established in phase 1 could be maintained in phase 2 and made for a harmonious design and construction process. This non-confrontational approach led to more efficient process for all the parties concerned and a better final product.

The success of the project is ultimately measured by the clients’ satisfaction with the new school. Unlike many school projects, this has not been a process that has been done to them - it has been something they have taken real ownership of, and they have a much better school as a result.

The London Borough of Richmond said: ‘The entire design and construction process has been carried out in a rich spirit of collaboration and co-operation between the design team, school, borough and contractor, which we believe shines through in the finished building; a building which both London Borough of Richmond and the Lowther Primary School are delighted with.’

AJ Buildings Library

See images and drawings of Lowther Primary School by Patel Taylor

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