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Theme: education buildings

Associated Architects worked in partnership with Worcestershire County Council on Hagley First School, a £1.9million development that occupies a mixed group of mid- and late-20th century buildings on a relatively prominent, gently sloping site.

The brief arose from the restructuring of the school system, streamlining local schools to a two-tier structure and almost doubling Hagley's pupil intake.

However, the original brief did not encompass all the school's aspirations for teaching, hall, external and overall floor areas.

Associated Architects was commissioned to develop the outline brief, at this stage conceived as a single-storey extension for 360 additional pupils. Six alternative site strategies were put forward and discussed. It was agreed that the sloping site and compact circulation, coupled with a desire for more economic construction, reduced heat loss and sunlight in all the classrooms, justified an unusual two-storey design. A series of internal works would upgrade other facilities in accordance with the new intake.

Twelve new classrooms are arranged on two levels in an L-shaped plan, enclosing a double-height elliptical hall, with associated stores, WCs and cloakroom areas. The new hall has moveable wall panels to enable flexibility and allow it to expand into the surrounding area for plays, productions and other large events, with capacity for whole school assemblies. It also complements the existing 'shoebox' hall at the east of the site.

The design for such fluid, internal spaces allows multi-functional use. Responding to the needs of the children, it provides a dynamic learning environment that connects visually with the surrounding teaching spaces. Special fitted furniture manufactured by ESA McIntosh is combined with sinks, storage and other practical teaching facilities. Emphasis was placed on good daylighting and strong visual connections to the external environment.

All classrooms receive direct sunlight. Fixed seasonal shading to the south- and westfacing windows controls useful passive solar gain. This also defines sheltered external areas adjacent to both floors of classrooms and provides alternative fire-escape routes.

The BP Institute at Cambridge University refined the natural ventilation strategy, based on its own recent research. The resulting ventilation stacks were developed closely with the whole design team, and enliven the roofscape. This is linked with natural top-lighting to central spaces in the deep plan on both levels using Vitral Inspiration rooflights. Inlet air at the building's perimeter is introduced through Schuco FW50+ motorised windows and curtain walling, controlled by a BMS system with local override.

The internal ventilation routes were designed to comply with the stringent acoustic requirements of the present Building Bulletin 93, now under revision. In practice, the acoustic standards achieved appear higher than necessary and classrooms at Hagley are often used with doors open to give better teacher supervision of adjoining areas, without any acoustic problems.

The butterfly-shaped roof, finished in Kalzip aluminium standing-seam roofing, enabled generous ceiling heights in many teaching areas. It shelters a covered outdoor play area, which is an addition to the original brief. The diagonal roof structure is given strong expression internally and externally in laminated timber. Roof rainwater drains to a single point, where the rainwater pipe by Alumasc allows a cascade from the central valley to fall into the large scarlet hopper beneath.

The landscaping was also extended and remodelled, providing an increased hard play area for the whole school and a new secure nursery play area, with direct supervision from the nursery classrooms. The external works were a considerable part of the scheme, providing a coherent visual link between the new extension and the existing buildings. As the landscaping matures, this will provide a stimulating external space for learning and play.

Worcestershire County Council piloted a new partnering arrangement for this project and four parallel school contracts. The client set an open, blame-free ethos, dispensing with some traditional contract mechanisms.

A two-stage tender allowed Pearce Construction's appointment at RIBA stage C.

This enabled useful contractor involvement in detail design and constructional issues, and engendered a strong and healthy project team dynamic that helped the whole process. Time was the highest client priority and a demanding programme was met to open in September 2004.

Following the building's completion, the BP Institute is monitoring internal conditions over a twelve- month period to assist fine-tuning and to advance its own research, which challenges some existing preconceptions surrounding natural ventilation. This is undertaken with the involvement of older school pupils as part of their planned curriculum in recording temperatures throughout the school year. Pupils were also involved in making a photographic record of the complete construction process.

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