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How to build a sustainable primary school: Four case studies

Hattie Hartman examines four primary schools developed using different low-carbon solutions

PassivHaus, zero-carbon, a BREEAM Outstanding rating - each of these low-carbon approaches drives differing, and sometimes conflicting, solutions to school design. The projects shown on the following pages by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects in Wakefield, Gaia Architects in Argyll, Penoyre & Prasad in North London and White Design Associates in Devon have interpreted low-carbon design in radically different ways. And none resembles the PassivHaus school designed by Georg Reinberg near Vienna, which follows another low-carbon strategy that architects of British schools are adopting.

Themes do emerge: good daylight and indoor air quality predominate; a link between indoors and out is strongly asserted; and the use of benign materials is paramount. But this is no more than what good school design has always aimed for.

Emphasis on low carbon is driving innovation. Penoyre & Prasad’s Ashmount Primary School proposes to export energy to nearby housing, an approach that is likely to become much more common. Timber for the Argyll and Wakefield schools comes from Austria, while for the Devon school it’s from Switzerland. Constructing an Austrian envelope in the UK is certainly one way to test it, and domestic manufacturers are watching closely.

Also taking its cue from colder climes, Montgomery Primary School in Exeter (no images have been released yet), potentially the UK’s first PassivHaus school, is at design Stage C. The Association of Environment Conscious Builders (AECB) recently led a study tour to Belgium, where 24 PassivHaus schools are underway.

However, Bill Bordass of the Usable Buildings Trust warns that PassivHaus was developed for low-occupancy buildings. Schools must be more demand-responsive because of the number of pupils.

The four case studies are:

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