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Urban Projects Bureau’s £2.2m Tooting school block completes

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The 790m² Observatory Block at Graveney School uses walkways, terraces and different teaching levels to facilitate the teaching of STEAM subjects

The Observatory – which lies adjacent to the Grade II-listed, 19th-century Furzedown House, the 20th-century Red House and school hall – sits at the centre of the school’s campus.

The building is Urban Projects Bureau’s second scheme at Graveney School in Tooting, south London. Funding for a new eight-classroom teaching block was secured from the government’s Condition Improvement Fund in 2017, which was then topped up with crowdfunding to extend the brief to 10 classrooms.

The building accommodates the school’s STEAM initiatives by encouraging students to think about space, time and the universe through physical means: walkways, terraces and teaching spaces at all levels facilitate this. A cylindrical staircase leads to a pop-up observatory on the roof.

The new building is linked to an existing study centre via a three-storey staircase which grows as one moves up, with views to other parts of the building and the wider school campus. At the centre is a feature chandelier specially designed to allow students to code it to represent mathematical patterns and constellations. 

Using the eclectic mix of surrounding buildings as inspiration, the architect was keen to create a building that appears both lightweight and solid. The building’s massing therefore has a triple-block composition and tiered roofline. Externally, it creates a new gathering place with an accessible ramp cutting through the building’s centre to create a double-storey void.

Constructed out of brickwork, with aluminium and timber-framed glazing, the building is clad in white perforated metal.


The Observatory Block, Graveney School by Urban Projects Bureau

Wandsworth Council approved the £1.8 million proposals for the extension of Graveney Upper School on the site of a former family centre at the start of 2018

Urban Projects Bureau first worked with Graveney in 2014 on a project to rethink the campus and provide new external teaching and event spaces, an entrance pavilion and SEN facility. Funding for Bradford House was secured via the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund. The building won a RIBA London Award in 2016.

The practice continues to work closely with the Tooting school community through design workshops and collaborations on ongoing campaigns promoting diversity and social inclusion in the built environment, including the pioneering ‘Celebrating Architecture’.

Urban Projects Bureau’s previous scheme for the Tooting school can be seen here

Architect’s view

The Observatory Block is a new classroom building within an existing campus at Graveney School. The building overlooks a green space with large trees and replaces a single-storey structure of poor quality and low environmental impact that previously sat on the site. The new building is designed to maximise views and contact with the trees and green spaces, and includes a courtyard and landscaped lawn area.

The client and design teams aimed to achieve high-quality, sustainably conscious architecture with intelligent construction systems and strong design ambition. We determined that CLT would enable greatest control over the design and production of the building, while delivering affordability and rapid site construction. CLT is a renewable material, with a low embodied carbon content in comparison to steel or masonry construction, and can achieve good levels of airtightness and insulation, reducing thermal bridging and operational energy use. Quick to erect on site, CLT is also lightweight, allowing a thinner slab and foundations, reducing the amount of concrete and other wet-trades required, which have high carbon levels.

We were determined to use CLT to its full potential, with careful detailing to minimise material waste. The CLT is exposed internally on the walls, ceilings and stairs, omitting the need for internal linings, further reducing material use and cost. All the services are exposed. In this way, the construction and tectonics of the building are visible to its users, raising awareness and knowledge about how buildings are put together and the different construction and material factors involved. The building is also designed to support circular economy principles, and is included as a case study in the GLA Design for a Circular Economy Primer.

The organisation of the building was carefully designed to minimise unnecessary floor area and maximise daylight penetration and airflow. Designed to be naturally ventilated, most classrooms are double or triple-aspect, enabling cross-ventilation and stack ventilation through rooflights. All of the spaces are naturally lit throughout the day, reducing the need for electric lighting, and solar gain is regulated by mesh cladding on the south façade.

Matthew Jeniec, project architect, Urban Projects Bureau

Campus site plan

Client’s view

Graveney is unusual for an inner London school in that it has a beautiful leafy campus site surrounded by an eclectic mix of buildings including a Georgian country house, several traditional Victorian school buildings and a sprinkling of 1960s Brutalist blocks.

We started working with Urban Projects Bureau in 2012 when we needed a new classroom block to accommodate our growing sixth form. Bradford House, which was funded to provide the equivalent of eight prefabricated classrooms, is an inspiration in light and airy modern architecture. Emboldened by the success of this build and when our continuing growth required a further classroom block, Urban Projects Bureau was an obvious partner. A more challenging specification here, we were presented with the opportunity of a lifetime to expand our accommodation with a second classroom block slap bang in the middle of our historic campus. 

The design brief was to squeeze a 10-classroom block from the funding envelope provided for eight classrooms, with an additional contribution provided by our board to secure the installation of an observatory. We required the build to be made from fully sustainable sources, with generous circulation space and the highest possible design standards. Further, the build must sit comfortably within the very mixed architecture that surrounded it. We also wanted to use the building and its surroundings to inspire students to think beyond the confines of everyday life by creating an environment where concepts such as space and time could be explored. 

Throughout the process we worked closely with Urban Projects Bureau, designing and redesigning the shell of the building so as to make the best possible use of the space available. We wanted a building that floated discreetly in its plot, avoiding harsh edges or dense materials while at the same time making a physical statement about the school as a beacon of excellence in STEAM.

With the contractor on board, the design process continued to be fully iterative, with all parties contributing to the developed plans and working together to bring our ideas into reality within a tightly constrained budget. The Observatory, which was initially to be sited on the second-floor terrace, was pushed up on to the roof. This decision added to the interest of the skyline, and provided the opportunity for a light and airy cylinder staircase by way of access, serving to both soften and extend the mesh cladding that encases the building. It also freed up the terrace to become a double-sized outdoor classroom, overlooking our entire upper campus, which we plan to use to help students understand the spatial relationships of the universe by introducing lighting and sculpture on the other buildings and trees as funding allows.

A spacious stairwell provides access to each floor and gives an opportunity for us to tell the story of the origins of the universe through a range of artwork and a specially designed programmable chandelier which can be linked to the telescope, which was crowdfunded by our parents.

Graham Stapleton, principal, Graveney School

Ground floor plan

Project data 

Start on site October 2018
Completion September 2019
Gross internal floor area 790m²
Form of contract Design & Build
Construction cost £2.2 million
Construction cost per m² £2,785
Client Graveney Trust, Graveney School
Architect Urban Projects Bureau
Structural engineer Michael Barclay Partnership, Lyons O’Neill
M&E consultant EDP Environmental
Quantity surveyor AA Projects
CLT subcontractor KLH UK
Project manager AA Projects
CDM co-ordinator AA Projects
Approved building inspector Regional Building Control
Main contractor Quinn London
CAD software used Vectorworks

Environmental performance data

Airtightness at 50pa 3.44m3/h.m2
Heating and hot water load 2.88kWh/m2/yr
Overall area-weighted U-value w/m2k
Annual CO2 emissions 12.90kgCO2eq/m2

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