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Elbow rooms

Studio BAAD Architects' school hall extension is a small project that makes a significant difference to Gorse Covert Primary School at Birchwood in Warrington

Gorse Covert Primary School in Warrington, opened in 1984 and extended in 1993, has been gradually growing and now has some 350 pupils. It is a well-maintained school but its hall, used for assembly, physical education, dining and performance, had become cramped for this population.

So Studio BAAD has removed existing storage spaces down either side of the hall, opened up these walls and added tapered additions like someone making themselves more elbow room. These additions, their inclined walls faced in timber and roofs in polycarbonate, also significantly increase daylight penetration and provide more focus to the hall, making the north wall a more natural stage.

There are other, smaller changes within this project. A new store building replaces the storage area removed in the hall, and in the process both defines a newly securable pedestrian entrance and encloses an existing courtyard as a safe play space. The non-orthogonal geometry and choice of materials bind these parts together.

This new entrance sequence is all the more important because the school site is entered from the east, so it also forms part of the circuitous approach to the main entrance, which is to the west of the hall. Studio BAAD's treatment makes this new sequence fun, sends a message of school renewal, and for out-of-hours use brings in lighting that increases the sense of theatre, the sense that you have come to a special occasion.

Studio BAAD's ability to make radical interventions in existing buildings comes as no surprise to the school, given its Pyramid Arts Centre close by where the city-centre Victorian Court House was transformed with a similar sense of fun, renewal and theatre (AJ 13.3.03). Gorse Covert's is modest by comparison at only £130,000 (some £100,000 of which was a grant under the Landfill Tax Credit scheme). For this, though, the architect has succeeded in delivering a significant functional improvement and a new presence in the school.

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