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RIBA Awards 2015: School

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Burntwood School principal Helen Dorfman tells of how they discovered that Allford Hall Monaghan Morris shared their vision for award-winning architecture

Our mission statement at Burntwood School is: the best education today for the women of tomorrow. It is this commitment that informs all the decisions we take here. We also believe that our students and staff deserve the best, and that a quality environment supports people in achieving well.

The original buildings that Burntwood inherited had been built for Garratt Green School.  The scheme was a carefully considered campus arrangement of buildings built in the late 1950s. At the time it provided an excellent environment in which the students could learn and develop. We retained the hall and the swimming pool block, which is still waiting for capital investment so that it, too, can be restored to its former glory. In the hall in particular there are references to the Royal Festival Hall as it was built by LCC architects in the late 1950s. They were influenced in turn by Alvaar Alto and Gunnar Asplund.

At Burntwood, we wanted the new buildings to reference Modernist elements of the existing buildings and to be worthy replacements of the old buildings, which were built to a high specification and had a quiet elegance about them. We also wanted the new scheme to reference architects such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, and earlier architecture found in some Italian Renaissance buildings and, in addition, to celebrate the design ethic of the Bauhaus. Quite a tall order for the architects.

So we were delighted to find kindred spirits in Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, landscape architect Lynn Kinnear, and Morag Myerscough who has done excellent work with the graphics, signage and redesign of our logo. All understood the power of collaboration and teamwork.

We quickly discovered that AHMM shared our vision for developing a scheme that provided an airy, light environment where the links between internal and external spaces are consistently made and where the buildings sit well in an elegant, simple landscape.  The architect also shared our commitment to developing a scheme that facilitated community use and engagement.

In summary, our partnership with AHMM proved to be very productive and was based on mutual trust and understanding. The ability of both sides to listen and be flexible about securing the best way forward also helped. We were all prepared to devote huge amounts of time to secure the best solutions to various challenges that arose. Attention to detail was extremely important.

Where we experienced difficulties was around the contractor’s understandable desire to minimise costs. This was exacerbated when the Building Schools for the Future programme was cancelled right at the end of the procurement process, so that the contractor’s contract ended up being much smaller than it had expected, which meant it lost considerable economies of scale. We were able to accommodate this to some extent as we had established our own school contingency fund, which helped to ensure that certain elements of the scheme were delivered to a higher standard than would otherwise have been possible.

Mainly, we had a clear, shared vision, which we were all doggedly determined to achieve.

Helen Dorfman is principal of Burntwood School, south-west London

RIBA Award winners

Burntwood School, London by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

Burntwood School by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

Client Wandsworth Borough Council
Contractor Lend Lease
Contract value £40.9 million
Gross internal area 21,405m²
Region London

The school affords a great sense of arrival with an immediate impression of quality, openness, confidence and solidity. The relationship between the new concrete buildings and the older buildings, a swimming pool and a Leslie Martin building, which has informed the new architecture, adds a sense of architectural history and depth to the whole site.

Modular pre-cast concrete cladding with canted edges and different-sized glazing panels is playfully arranged on a rigid grid, creating surprising interior spaces. The rooms are filled with light, and there are many double, even triple-height spaces. Internal corridors all end in views.

The architectural expression is bold, characterful and adds to a sense of this being a very collegiate school. It would appear to encourage behaviour to suit.

Arcadia Nursery, University of Edinburgh by Malcolm Fraser Architects

Arcadia Nursery by Malcolm Fraser Architects

Client The University of Edinburgh
Contractor Balfour Beatty
Contract value £2.5 million
Gross internal area 832m²
Region Scotland

The nursery was created to provide early-years education for children of university staff, students and the general public. The proposal was designed around the ‘free-play’ concept, which helps develop children’s confidence, independence and creativity by encouraging them to choose their activities, inside or out.

Each age group’s playroom is clearly identifiable externally as a welcoming, contemporary domestic form that creates a sense of belonging. These three pavilions are linked by a single-storey building with a large rooflight.

Cross-laminated timber is the perfect sustainable product to structurally achieve the clear roof volumes required for the mezzanine, while also providing warm, tactile interiors. Its form beautifully befits function.

Ashmount Primary School and Bowlers Nursery, London by Penoyre & Prasad

Ashmount Primary School by Penoyre and Prasad

Client Islington Borough Council
Contractor Wilmott Dixon
Contract value £13.5 million
Gross internal area 4,445m²
Region London

This zero-carbon in-use, BREEAM Outstanding school and nursery draws inspiration from its site, with a scheme that carefully manipulates both its plan and cross-section to draw natural light inside, and constantly reveal views of the surrounding woodland. The combined heat and power plant is linked to neighbouring community housing and offsets the school’s carbon footprint.

At the lower level, a double-height multipurpose room opens on to the playground. Higher up, the pinwheel plan is composed of three wings of classrooms radiating out from a central circulation spine, which also contains the entrance, library and a top-lit, open-stepped auditorium.

The building is clad in cedar and glass above a brick plinth, and is weathering elegantly on all facades. This is an exemplary primary school.

Uppingham School Science Centre, Leicestershire by Orms

Uppingham School Science Centre, Rutland by Orms

Client Uppingham School
Contractor Bowmer & Kirkland
Contract value £14 million
Gross internal area 4,180m²
Region East Midlands

With an L-shaped building that completes a courtyard providing a science department, the building, inside and outside, feels like a top university department rather than a school. An intense attention to detail permeates every part. The materials are very well judged and, while much of the interior is white, the use of timber and colour lends a strong sense of place.

The collegiate plan, with a beautifully made concrete colonnade, reinforces not just a sense of permanence, but of seriousness, even gravitas, that will surely lift every young mind. The project is also a magnificent collaboration between client and architect, with the building’s success typified by a blurring of both parties’ roles in the design, and a real sense of ownership by both.

Alfriston School, Buckinghamshire by Duggan Morris Architects

Alfriston School, Beaconsfield by Duggan Morris Architects

Client Alfriston School
Contractor Feltham Construction
Contract value £1,8 million
Gross internal area 4,000m²
Region South

The building provides a new indoor swimming pool for an all-girls special school; more than that it provides delight. The new structure abuts a restored pitched-roof sports pavilion and takes its roof from that, but magically folds and twists it to become a thing of great beauty: a timber grid shell propped delicately above the shimmering water. The two elements are linked by black-clad changing rooms.

The architect engaged a specialist joinery company to develop the roof structural system, and consulted with TRADA to refine the timber detailing. The results are an evenly weathered timber cladding that folds like a giant piece of origami. The interior is uplifting and calming. The detailing is both considered and effortless, allowing the bigger idea of the ribbed structure to enthral its users.


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