The framework set out for all four Sheffield projects is a more contextual one than for many, which seek first a role as national models. The framework talks of 'unique and innovative classrooms that will enhance and complement the existing environments'. Of all the classrooms, Brunswick and Ballifield (p30-31) are two of the most site-specific.
They do, of course, have some wider implications as models. For example, both schemes are pairs of classrooms (primary school year bases) that can work as one volume or be subdivided with folding screens, giving the school and community a new size of space. (This flexibility is complemented by wireless laptops. ) The new classrooms are linked to the main school yet can be used as an autonomous unit. They are foci for their schools ICT-based teaching, and go beyond simple rectilinear volumes to make experiencing the built environment more central to education, creating an atmosphere that draws less sharp lines between work and play.
Most striking at Brunswick is the roof profile. On a school site intentionally open to local people to use, there have been problems of children playing on the existing roofs. The architect's positive response was to draw attention away from these existing roofs by creating a play roof - an inclined plane - to the new classrooms; it appears to be working. The roof is, of course, more than a diversion; it acts as playground space for the school and the wider community, and as a teaching space. Recently a school assembly was held there for 300 students.
Early design ideas were simply for a roofplane that would sweep up the building.
But concerns about its misuse, not least joyriding, have led to a design with a more restricted entry that can be gated, with the roofspace spreading out to the full building width beyond. During consultation with students and staff, they preferred much of the slope with small steps (terrace-like) rather than a uniform plane, for the possibilities steps offer for sitting and for play. There is also wheelchair access.
Inside the classrooms the ceiling is in four stepped planes, with integrated artificial lighting. At the lowest point of the room is a low-ceilinged children's retreat. At the opposite end a glazed link space (with new WCs and cloakroom) provides outdoor access to the classrooms and connects to the existing school. The architect had hoped to continue the new openness into the existing building by having folding-partition access off the link to the nearest existing classroom. But fire compartmentation proved problematic. As much fire-resistant glazing as could be afforded is set into this existing classroom wall to provide, at least, significant visual connection.
At first sight the play roof may be thought highly site-specifc. But it can also be read as an urban prototype, whether going back to the idea of Corbusier's UnitÚs or, like BDP's Hampden Gurney School (AJ 17.10.02), suited to a multi-storey school on a landlocked site.