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Sheppard Robson’s timber academy ready for new term

[FIRST LOOK] Sheppard Robson’s recently completed Open Academy in Norwich will open its doors to pupils within the next two weeks

The Building Schools for the Future project, which was won ahead of a rival bid by an Aedas-backed contractor team in April 2008, is billed as the largest cross-laminated timber school in the country.

Built on the grounds of the soon-to-be demolished 1960s Heartsease High School, the scheme has a timber core that the practice says is ‘equivalent to running 12 per cent of renewable energy on site for 25 years’.

Balconies and circulation routes wrap around a central heart in a series of bands. The 40 trapezoidal classrooms are arranged around the outside of the building.

The architect’s view by project leader, Sophie Campbell at Sheppard Robson

The final form came from a rotating cog, to tie in with the academy’s speciality in engineering. The large central atrium space was Graham Dacre’s idea [a Christian entrepreneur who put £1 million into the project]. He wanted the building to have an ecclesiastical feel – you walk in and look up. Apart from the sports block there are no corridors, it is all open circulation. Generally the structure is in the centre, with the partitions like spokes of a wheel which can be taken down to make classrooms larger. The timber construction meant big challenges in terms of the acoustics, which is an ongoing problem in academies, yet the exposed timber soffits brings a warmth to sterile spaces. We had a good relationship with the client’s architectural adviser, Gensler, which helped us with the contractor. [Even so] we wanted the rooflights to be bigger but they were replaced by circular windows. However on a sunny day it creates nice spotlights. This scheme has been absolute value for money.

Specification

Client: Kier Education for Norfolk City Council
Start on site: December 2008
M&E consultant: WSP Building
Gross internal floor area: £9,000m2
Total cost: £20 million

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