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Designing Priority Schools

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Class of 2014: Jayne Bird, partner at Nicholas Hare Architects discusses the design of Priority Schools

More from: Class of 2014

As pressure increases, time, cost and areas reduce and it is even more important that clear, well thought-out design solutions are devised for our future schools.

Stratford School Academy is our first school in the London Priority Schools Building Programme batch with BAM. The school is to expand to a 1,500-student academy split over two sites at Grosvenor Road and Upton Lane, which will each accommodate 750 pupils. Upton Lane will also have a resourced provision for 20 pupils with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). A sports hall will be shared by both sites.


Our design adopts a model that optimises adaptability, economy and repeatability. This is achieved through a compact building diagram that minimises circulation space and optimises gross floor area.

Flexible classrooms, whether for general or specialist teaching, are located around the perimeter, forming a crust of learning, while specialist facilities, including multi-functional hall spaces, dining and larger uninterrupted internal volumes, are located centrally, with support spaces between them.
This allows these secondary spaces to benefit from the natural daylight and ventilation of the adjacent larger spaces.


We recognise that ‘repeatability’ of a single school solution cannot be achieved across the board, as the schools and their sites will each have specific constraints and requirements. At the same time, we think that the process described here has demonstrated that it is possible to consider elements of a system that allow an acceptable design to be arrived at quite quickly.

The essence of the system is that the basic form and dimensions of the teaching and learning accommodation ‘bars’ will be established, but that they can grow incrementally as needed, and can be of two or more storeys.


Bars can be arranged in a variety of ways around cores and existing structures, which can be of any size or form, and accommodate a variety of educational models - as demonstrated in accommodating the enhanced requirements of the ASD resource provision at Upton Lane and the existing buildings at Grosvenor Road.

Benefits of using a system

The system that we are using allows for repeatability at an appropriate scale to achieve real economies, while providing adaptability for varying sites and user priorities. The economies are achieved in three ways: in design, in purchasing and in construction.


Economy in design is achieved by using known modules that are sufficiently generic to enable the generation of various arrangements to meet different needs within the early design stages. BAM has invested time in developing with us a technical design for Stratford School Academy that has already eliminated the need to re-design individual elements on future schools. downward pressure on fees, and adopting an elemental design solution frees up time to concentrate on the particularities of each school and site.


Economies in purchasing are achieved primarily through the ability to procure identical elements across a programme involving several schools - essentially, buying in bulk.

Finally, economy in construction requires the contractor and design team to work together with suppliers and subcontractors on individual packages to achieve true value engineering.

Due to fierce cost constraints, we need to work even harder to achieve good design. Whatever the solution, it must add value and contribute to the big picture, otherwise it is far too easily value- engineered.

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