Faith in the city
Immanuel College, Thackley, lies in the semi-rural hinterland of Leeds and Bradford, a territory where the remnants of old village centres provide a piquant contrast with inter-war council housing, 20th century industrial sprawl and the more recent efforts of the mass house-builders - the whole scene immeasurably elevated by the proximity of open Pennine countryside and working farmland. The extraordinary model industrial village of Saltaire, presided over by Titus Salt's magnificent mill, is just down the road. The troubled streets of inner-city Bradford - Thackley is within the city boundaries - seem far away.
Immanuel is, however, a marker of educational change in the Bradford area. The first Church of England secondary school in the city, and a reflection of the rise of 'faith schools', the college is the product of a radical reorganisation of Bradford's secondary education system - it was one of the last authorities to retain a three-tier system, which has now been superseded. The reorganisation process has generated something of a building boom - more than 100 local schools are currently being rebuilt or substantially remodelled.
Debbie Childs, Bradford Diocese's senior executive officer, responsible for schools, explains that three possible sites were considered for the new college. That at Thackley had been occupied by a redundant localauthority school, housed in post-war buildings not considered worth retaining.
The site was tight - hence the need for the new development to rise to four storeys - but well located to serve the perceived catchment area, and attractive in itself. Stone walls and mature trees (which further constrained the development) rooted it to the surrounding landscape.
The use of PFI funding for the scheme was considered, says Childs, but ruled out, with the agreement of the Department of Education, because of the extremely tight schedule for the project. (The government provides 85 per cent of the funding for faith schools, via the local authority, with the remaining 15 per cent raised by the relevant denomination; the aim is to have 50 per cent of the enrolment drawn from churchgoing families. ) Competitive interviews were held in May, 1999, with large practices such as Carey Jones, BDP and Abbey Holford Rowe all on the shortlist. Adam Clark of Halliday Clark believes that the experience of school projects that he and co-director David Halliday accumulated during their time at the nowdefunct John Brunton & Partners helped them win this hard-fought contest. Founded as recently as 1993, Halliday Clark has the reputation of a design-led office with pragmatic roots, ensuring the practice a varied workload mainly in the Leeds/Bradford area. The fast-track nature of the £11 million project, says Clark, provided an immediate challenge.
The first phase opened in September 2000, with the remainder completed last May.
Intended to house 1,400 pupils by 2002, and replacing two existing schools, Immanuel is a large institution with, inevitably, a strong impact on its surroundings, though this was ameliorated, to some extent, by the contours of the site. The nature of a secondary school, with laboratory, IT and other specialised facilities, is at odds with the more folksy image of the school, evoked, for example, by some of the celebrated Hampshire primary schools or by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris's Great Notley school (AJ 4.11.99).
The client saw the development of a strong sixth form as a prime objective and wanted this to be expressed in the project, with the provision of a clearly-defined centre for senior pupils. Finally, the use of part of the premises by the local community outside school hours, was seen as inevitable and, indeed, desirable and had to be provided for in the designs.
Immanuel is described as a college, and the layout of the buildings has a collegiate feel, with buildings around a central quadrangle, containing a hard-surface playground and an amphitheatre for outdoor performances - it does not look well-used as yet. Inevitably, perhaps, the route into the building lies across a car park, thence into a generously scaled entrance hall. The first of a series of lifts is provided here for use by the disabled - the school is 100 per cent accessible.
The sixth-form domain, symbolised by the projecting circular common-room block, is to one side, together with staff room, library and IT suites. The main school block is accessed via a glazed bridge spanning the central court.
It leads to 'the street', the social and operational heart of the school, defining the main level of the complex and some 56m in length. Classroom and laboratory blocks and the canteen (which forms the fourth side of the quadrangle) open off this spine. The fall of the land allows for two levels of classrooms below.
Internally, Immanuel has a lightness and transparency far removed from the conventional school environment. This is not just a matter of raising spirits, but equally, it seems, of ensuring proper supervision - Immanuel has its share of 'difficult' pupils.
Since the school opened its doors last autumn, the damage caused to plaster wall surfaces in some common areas, for example, has led to the imposition of a Portaflek coating which is less attractive but far more durable. In the central 'street', concrete blockwork, tinted the hue of red Cheshire sandstone, provides a highly practical alternative. The general impression, indeed, is of a building designed for heavy wear and intensive use.
Exposed steel roof elements, the use of strong colours (blue in the science labs, for example) and the successful management of natural light, produce spaces which are enjoyable and workmanlike, while lacking obvious frills - the canteen is a particularly dynamic interior. In contrast, the chapel (or 'sanctuary'), located off the main assembly hall, is a rather bleak place, with nothing numinous about it - though it was a significant element in the client brief.
Project director Mark Pettit concedes compromises in detailing. The timber firedoors which subdivide 'the street' are far more intrusive than the architect's preferred metal-framed versions would have been - but the latter fell victim to budget constraints. Skirting details too have a clumsy and ill-considered appearance. No architect with experience of schools expects much respect for his work, but the decision to entirely strip Halliday Clark's library at Immanuel of its fittings, within a year of installation, seems perverse.
The exterior of the college deserves study as an intelligent response to locale. Adam Clark's original aim was to give the buildings a dry-stone wall base (inspired by Ted Cullinan's Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre and by Clark's own interest in the craft). What has emerged, after this approach was ruled out on cost grounds, is a base of more conventional random-stone wall - but this is still firmly within the regional tradition.
Above the base, the cladding materials are a mix of render, cedar boarding (for example, on the lift towers) and durable Kingspan panels. If the stone plinth echoes the vernacular of the past, the impression of the school, seen from the north - where there are still open fields - is of modern agricultural buildings, tough, economical and matter-of -fact. There is an obvious contrast between this 'rural' aspect of the complex and the more composed urban elevations facing the main road to the south.
Immanuel is still a growing institution - an additional, integrated facility for visually impaired children is to be constructed on land immediately to the west. But the impression is already one of a wellequipped, heavily-used educational campus which embodies the government's ambitions for Britain's school system. The long-term success of any building depends on the response of the users. At Thackley, staff and students have been given an impressive concentration of educational facilities - over to you, teachers and pupils.
Immanuel College has been constructed as a number of structurally independent blocks interconnected with walkways. The timber bridge in the centre of the teaching blocks has a 16m span and comprises 'Ekki'hardwood lattice trusses, supported on steel columns at one end, and a reinforced concrete retaining wall at the other. To the underside of the bridge is a curved concrete ground-bearing amphitheatre for summer assemblies or lessons.
The school comprises several classroom blocks, an assembly hall, sports hall, canteen and administration block. Many of the classrooms have exposed galvanised trusses and hot-rolled purlins upon which a sound-absorbent roof deck by Plannja is laid. Most non-teaching blocks have curved roofs supported by steel trusses.
British Steel 'Slimfloor'construction was used for structural floors to minimise floor-to-floor heights reducing height (for planning purposes) and costs.Composite floor construction also enabled the use of larger spans for smaller beams, to create the larger open spaces.
Cladding materials include natural stone, cedar boarding, painted render, glazed curtainwalling and composite cladding panels.
As the school is on a sloping site, a 'terracing' approach was adopted, creating various levels that could then be supported with reinforcedconcrete retaining walls.Natural features, such as site levels and tree positions, were retained as far as possible. Foundations were generally pad and strip footings on natural boulder clay.