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Acanthus Architects LW creates art block for Riverside School

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The practice has designed a facility in north London to provide therapeutic learning for pupils with often-severe learning difficulties, writes Jon Astbury

Riverside school is a special school in Haringey, north London, with students experiencing a wide range of learning difficulties, including those with severe, profound and multiple problems. A majority of the students have a diagnosis of autism.

This project provides a new arts block providing 11 rooms for the teaching of music and art. These subjects are popular with pupils at the school, offering opportunities for therapeutic learning and enjoyment where progress in conventional academic subjects can be challenging. 

The extension is positioned at first-floor level, elevated on pilotis above the school’s entrance area facing White Hart Lane. This serves to announce the school entrance, which was previously ill-defined, being accessed through the grounds of the adjoining Woodside High School. The new space created below the extension serves as covered entrance forecourt and waiting area. 

One existing classroom displaced by the extension is relocated to the southern end of the school and was constructed as a modular element that was quickly installed during school holidays. 

A new link corridor to the extension springs from the intersection of the existing L-shaped circulation system creating a crossroads. This serves to emphasise the internal intersection of routes as the social hub at the heart of the school. Natural light from clerestory glazing draws people into the new block. To emphasise the arts block’s status as a refuge separate from the regular academic classrooms, its orientation is cranked from the orthogonal setting out of the existing school of 2012 by Penoyre & Prasad. 

4640 riverside 01

4640 riverside 01

Principal art and music rooms of around 60m² are provided on either side of the block, with practice rooms and multisensory rooms between. The design was developed in close collaboration with students and teachers, and several adaptions were made to suit the specific concerns of pupils to avoid any visual stimuli that could cause anxiety or distress. Rooflights provide most of the natural light and windows are positioned to avoid views of the adjoining street and playground areas, which can be disturbing to students. 

Where possible the new rooms have gently curving corners, avoiding abrupt geometries. Considerable attention has beenb paid to the acoustic performance of the new block since the music practice room with its drum kit is close to multisensory therapy rooms where silence is required. 

The multisensory rooms offer sanctuaries away from regular classes and providing spaces for individual therapy. 

04 plan

04 plan

Ground floor plan

Project data

Start on site 
28 May 2015
Completion Practical completion September 2016; contract completion September 2017
Gross external floor area 387m² (comprising arts block extension 240m², replacement classroom 70m² and internal remodeling to provide access to extension 77m².
Form of contract JCT Intermediate Building Contract with Contractors Design 2011
Construction cost £1.2 million
Construction cost per m²
 £3,133 (including remodeling of existing classroom to provide access to extension)
Acanthus Architects LW
London Borough of Haringey
Structural engineer WYG Engineering
M&E consultant WYG Engineering
Quantity surveyor/cost consultant Playle & Partners
Acoustics WYG Engineering
Project manager 
London Borough of Haringey
CDM coordinator
Approved building inspector London Borough of Haringey
Main contractor MBS Contracting Services
CAD software used 

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