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Child Graddon Lewis transforms primary school with GRC ‘vertical’ extension


The £8 million extension and refurbishment of the east London school ressurects its pre-war form with a light grey vertical extension

Gatehouse School, located close to Victoria Park and Regent’s Canal, is an independent primary school and nursery originally built in 1901. Following nurmerous unsuccessful attempts by the school to purchase adjacent land in order to expand, Child Graddon Lewis’ proposed retrofit was deemed a creative solution – and was strongly supported by Tower Hamlets Council.

Child Graddon Lewis was initially commissioned by the school to compile a feasibility study for one of the pinpointed sites. During this process, the architect highlighted an alternative design solution which meant the extra buildable space would not be required.

The project has enabled the school to cater for rising pupil numbers by expanding from two to three-form entry, in addition to providing new facilities including 15 classrooms, flexible performance space, new entrance and reception space, music suites, library, kitchen, additional circulation space and a consolidated nursery centre.


While researching the building’s history, Child Graddon Lewis discovered that the original composition had been lost during the Second World War. The building originally had two three-storey towers located at either end, bridged together by the main hall. The alterations in the years that followed, in addition to an unsatisfactory relationship to a neighbouring housing block, called for a rebalancing of the existing elevations.

Child Graddon Lewis therefore utilised the existing Victorian foundations and extended the eastern end of the building to provide an additional three storeys of classrooms. The new performance space has been added above the main hall, forming a coherent relationship with the previous extension to the west, thus reinstating the original bookend form and creating a gradual step in height to the adjacent housing block.

Cgl sketch

The new elevations reference the original windows: their alignment and rhythm. Enhancing the contrast between old and new, a light grey, smooth-textured glass reinforced concrete has been used to highlight the vertical extension against the original red brickwork.

The performing arts space incorporates retractable seating for flexibility, allowing the room to cater for assemblies, exams and after-school activities.

Child Graddon Lewis compressed the construction programme for the school over two phases, allowing the project to be delivered without disrupting the school’s day to day operations.


Architect’s view

Challenged with a constrained urban site, we sought to intensify the existing building to create a more efficient use of the site while being guided by the original form of the building.

The proposal evolves around extending the existing school building to provide a series of new facilities that adapt to modern teaching. From the very beginning we set this project to be an ambitious showcase of creativity with meticulous attention to detail.

Extensive rearrangement of the internal layout sought to rationalise the school’s day-to-day operation. Classrooms were arranged per year group with younger pupils starting at lower floors and rising higher up the building as they move up through the years. Greater flexibility and adaptability of spaces enable to school to operate more dynamically, encouraging teachers and pupils to move away from more traditional approaches.

Sensitive logistic planning enabled the school to remain fully functional during construction without the need for decant or temporary facilities. Primary and noisy works were carried out during the school holidays, with minor works and site deliveries focused towards very selected times.

Ian Givin, associate, Child Graddon Lewis

Cgl location plan

Client’s view

CGL’s specialist understanding of how schools operate helped immensely with the building process. Not only did they achieve an inspirational design, they unlocked a way of delivering it without interrupting the day-to-day business of the school.

We are extremely proud of what has been achieved by completely transforming Gatehouse School. This is thanks to the vision and experience in design and logistic planning of CGL. If it hadn’t been for their insight none of this might have been possible. 

James Bishop, bursar, Gatehouse School

The children are really enjoying their classes as a result of the new rooms, enabling them to work more collaboratively, developing key skills such as learning, communication and negotiation. Movement around the building has improved immensely and our students are enjoying the experience of going from class to class in a subject-based learning environment.

Sevda Korbay, deputy head, Gatehouse School

Cgl ground floor plan

Project data 

Start on site March 2016 (Phase 1); April 2017 (Phase 2)
Completion January 2018
Gross internal floor area 2,412m²
Gross (internal + external) floor area 3,015m²
Form of contract or procurement route Traditional (Phase 1); Design & Build (Phase 2)
Construction cost £8 million
Architect Child Graddon Lewis
Client Gatehouse School
Structural engineer Conisbee
M&E consultant IES (Phase 1); Battledore (Phase 2)
QS Stace 
Acoustic consultant Cass Allen
Project manager Stace (Phase 1); KSA Property (Phase 2)
CDM coordinator Child Graddon Lewis
Approved building inspector Butler & Young
Fire consultant BWC
Main contractor Phoenix Construction (Phase 1); ARJ Construction (Phase 2) 
CAD software used Revit
Annual CO2 emissions 11.1kg/m²

Cgl elevations


Readers' comments (4)

  • In my day primary schools had playgrounds, but perhaps access to the open air in Tower Hamlets these days is not such a good idea.

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  • Looks like an intelligent and appropriate repurposing of the existing building...well done!

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  • Hello Robert,

    Just wanted to let you know that the school has an extensive external playground that occupies over 75% of the current school grounds. Our design didn't decrease this existing play space in any way or form - the key ambition was to expand the school within its existing building footprint.

    A raised terrace to the south - linking the reception year classrooms with an external flow space facility - actually allowed us to increase the total external playground space for the school and its pupils.



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  • My apologies to CGL - I should've looked at the site plan and used my head.

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