At Jubilee School in south London, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris has drawn on its education experience to create a 'tough but fun' environment bringing much-needed colour to its inner-city site
Tulse Hill council estate in Brixton bears the scars of successive attempts to jolly it up: landscape projects; community buildings; a garden thrown together by the Ground Force team which is, apparently, the one public amenity which has proved entirely immune to vandalism. Physically and socially, it is a context far removed from Great Notley in Essex, where Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) designed its first - and only other - entirely new-build school (AJ 4.11.99).
Whereas Notley Green Primary School was designed to house a new school serving a new 'model community', Tulse Hill's Jubilee School comes weighed down with baggage.
Conceived as a 'superschool', Jubilee is part ofan initiative by the London Borough of Lambeth to change the way that schools and their facilities are perceived and used. Its creation followed the closure of three existing schools, one of which, Brockwell Primary School, previously occupied the site.
Against this politically contentious backdrop, it was particularly important to deliver a building which would command the affections of the community it served. The task of creating ownership started early. The main contractor organised regular tours of the site. Studio Myerscough, which also worked with AHMM on the Broadgate Club (AJ 5.3.98), embarked on a comprehensive branding exercise. Graphics - from the snake in the nursery playground to the school's crown-shaped logo - are consistently slick, but sufficiently adaptable to appeal both to the very young and to streetwise teenagers with sophisticated tastes.
The challenge was to shatter preconceptions about draconian institutions, and to present the school as an exciting community resource, as opposed to a ring-fenced environment for the young. The architecture reinforces the message; this is a building with serious civic presence. From the outside, the strong linear shapes, white render planes, and glowing blocks of colour by artist Martin Richman, suggest an arts centre rather than a school, while the outdoor space (playground is a peculiarly inappropriate term) replicates some of the excitement of a sports stadium.
Whereas Notley Green was surrounded by open space, Jubilee School occupies a complex urban site. Notley Green's triangular form, which might appear whimsical and unduly self-referential in any urban context, was a legitimate attempt to establish a strong identity in a no man's land. At Jubilee, AHMM has adopted a more fluid approach to planning, with specific site conditions informing the form and location of the three main elements of the design.
The hall block gives the school a dramatic presence on Tulse Hill. From this elevation the building is reminiscent of a university, an impression which is carried through to the generous reception and foyer. The classroom block runs from east to west allowing for south-facing classrooms, each with an equal amount of sunlight, and each with a balcony and terrace of their own. 'Break-out' spaces, currently favoured by the Department for Education and Skills, are clearly articulated as cantilevered boxes along the northern edge of the classroom block. The special educational needs block is located to the west, providing a separate entrance, and a sheltered environment at the quietest end of the site for the 30 or so profoundly deaf pupils who arrive by minibus each day. A small outdoor area allows them to avoid the main playground if they choose (for parents of children with special needs bullying is a particular concern).
The sedum roof presents a picturesque elevation to the many residents overlooking the site and also underlines AHMM's fondness for architecture which wears its environmental credentials on its sleeve.
Materials which are clearly recycled are used throughout the building, while wind/ventilation chimneys, operated by hand, provide legible low-tech environmental control. A staggered section gives upper and lower ground classrooms a chimney of their own (see working detail).
The green agenda is decidedly pragmatic.
The practice became well acquainted with the paradoxes inherent in being too doctrinaire at Notley Green, where the decision to use only sustainable materials called for a distinctly unecologically friendly strategy of importing materials from across the globe.
As Monaghan points out, the most truly energy efficient move at Jubilee School was the decision to save £50,000 by not replacing a significant part of the existing school fence.
AHMM's modus operandi is an interesting essay in collaboration. With four equal partners - and no obvious differentiation of roles - pragmatism is essential. Megalomaniac tendencies would have been ironed out long ago. There are obvious implications for the way the office is structured, but also, arguably, for the architecture itself.
AHMM has developed an architectural language which concentrates on establishing parameters - often with room for a certain amount of give. Most literally this was evident in the plans for Notley Green where elevations incorporated a black band designated as a 'window zone'. The client could demand windows of any shape or size so long as they fell within the band. A similar device has been used in the Jubilee School classrooms, where a 'noticeboard zone' defines parameters for the random bits and pieces which will inevitably be stuck to the walls.
The plan, too, allows for the fact that spaces are unlikely to be used exactly as intended, with the emphasis on 'clusters' of associated uses as opposed to specific functions for every single space. The SureStart Centre, nursery and reception classes, for example, are grouped together, forming an early years centre within which the emphasis given to different facilities may change.
This relaxed attitude can also accommodate a degree of 'give' within the construction process. When it became apparent that Jubilee School's main hall block had been built a metre higher than intended, AHMM simply applied for amended planning permission while the building was on site. Monaghan's comment on the affair is typically laid-back: 'The proportions of our architecture are such that it doesn't matter if we add an extra metre - we're not exactly Eric Parry.'
But while the plan allows for a certain amount of flexibility, it does not encourage extension. There is a void space under the hall terrace which has been provided with plumbing and could become changing rooms, but that's it. Colin Stansfield-Smith, who was heavily involved with the initial competition for the design of the school, counselled the advantages of deliberately minimising the potential for expansion.
AHMM's willingness to listen was doubtlessly informed by its experience at Notley Green, where Essex council commissioned Bryant Harvey Partnership to extend the school despite the fact that AHMM had worked up two expansion studies free of charge (AJ4.4.02).
'What makes more sense, ' argues Monaghan, 'is to rethink the way things are used, and not to have spaces which are used for one hour a day.' When designing Great Notley, AHMM took a late decision to roof over a courtyard on the basis that an indoor hall would be more useful. Similarly, at Jubilee, potential corridor space to the rear of the classrooms has been reclaimed as classroom space, forcing circulation into the open air but providing classrooms which are 15 per cent larger than the DfES standard.
The primary concern is with the places where people really spend their time. The WCs, accordingly, have been carefully designed with stainless steel fittings, glowing ceilings and luminescent paint. 'Our take on the loos is that they're like the loos in Shoreditch bars, ' says Monaghan. 'We think they're a pretty trendy place for four year olds.' The pupils have responded by behaving pretty much like punters in the average Shoreditch bar: somebody has already caused minor flooding by pulling off a tap.
But that's just fine. The point is not to engender a Stepford Wives-esque haven of model behaviour, but to deliver a building which is robust enough to take a bit of abuse and exciting enough to be the kind of place where kids are happy to hang out. The 'tough but fun' agenda of snuggly Notley Green has reinvented itself for gritty Tulse Hill with considerable aplomb.
Graphics, including the school logo, were designed by Studio Myerscough. An RSA Art for Architecture grant was awarded for collaborative work with artist Martin Richman. The project included the development of a strong palette of colour used both internally, giving each classroom its own identity, and externally, where coloured walls, strip lights and illuminated chimneys give the school its distinctive character.
Richman also designed the etched glass window on the western facade, where planners insisted that the glazing should be partially obscured. The design was inspired by the Studio Myerscoughdesigned snakes which form part of the ground markings in the playground.
Bespoke furniture by Andrew Stafford (left) includes bench and table units for informal teaching in the break-out spaces.
Environmental engineering - Patrick Bellew, Atelier
The existing school buildings that were demolished to accommodate the new Jubilee school were very typical 1960s concrete ones.
Built to the south side of the site, the classrooms had unshaded south-facing highly glazed facades, negligible insulation, single-sided natural ventilation and poor fluorescent lighting. They were less than ideal as a learning environment.
In a sense therefore we set out to create the inverse of these difficult classrooms. The new building occupies the northern part of the site with the classrooms oriented to the south. Building on the experience developed with AHMM on the sustainable primary school at Notley Green (AJ 4.11.99), we developed the classroom design in particular to translate the successful characteristics of a single-storey classroom in a two-storey school. These appear to be simple in execution but inevitably were rather more complex in development, given the pressures on space and budget that are an inevitable feature of school design.
The control of solar gain to the south facade is achieved by a combination of overhangs and balconies, producing an external space for the occupants of the upper classrooms.Effective daylighting of classrooms is possibly the most important element of the design; experience suggests that single-sided daylighting will always result in significantly greater use of artificial lighting than daylighting from two sides, and this was a key objective. This is achieved by the organisation of the classrooms on the ground floor and by the use of skylights on the upper floor. Classroom lights are fitted with individual daylight dimming sensors to ensure that energy use is optimised.
The classrooms are thermally massive and naturally ventilated. Wind chimneys at the rear of the classrooms ensure good cross ventilation and are operated by the teachers.The facades have high and low level openers to provide flexibility and draught-free ventilation.
All the classrooms have underfloor heating connected to condensing boilers in the plant room.The heating is arranged in a number of zones, allowing out-of-hours use of the larger spaces by the community, without having to heat the whole building.
WCs and internal office areas have mechanical ventilation with heat recovery.
Ten Structure - Gary Elliott and Alastair Craig, Elliott Wood Partnership C
Initial schemes adopted the use of loadbearing masonry with pre-stressed concrete floor planks spanning between the main walls dividing the classrooms. The need for greater flexibility of the space within the main hall and entrance, combined with a number of substantial cantilevers, made the use of this system inappropriate. As a result, a steel-framed structure was adopted.
The steel floor beams are kept within the depth of the precast planks by using the 'Slimflor' system, aiding service distribution.
The concrete planks and topping had the added benefit of substantial thermal mass.
Stability is provided by the diaphragm action offered by the floors. These distribute lateral load to the stabilising braced bays, which are all located within walls to suit the building layout.
Concrete planks are also used for the roof of the main building, which carry a low maintenance green roof system.
The superstructure is founded on simple mass concrete strip foundations into the underlying London Clay. These are placed at sufficient depth to avoid the potentially damaging effects of the trees surrounding the site.
Costs based on draft final account
SUBSTRUCTURE FOUNDATIONS/SLABS £96.99/m2
Generally mass concrete trench fill foundations with some reinforced concrete retaining walls and ground beams; precast concrete plank floor slabs supported on masonry; ventilated void
SUPERSTRUCTURE FRAME £72.22/m2 Steel frame; intumescent paint.
UPPER FLOORS £20.26/m2 Precast concrete plank floor slabs with reinforced concrete structural topping
ROOF £100.09/m2 Insulated sedum roof coverings on precast concrete plank floor slabs with reinforced concrete structural topping; timber decking to lower ground floor roof terraces; insulated profiled aluminium roof coverings to hall/admin block
ROOFLIGHTS £29.33/m2 Light and ventilation chimneys to eight first floor and two ground floor classrooms; comprising steel frame with insulated render cladding, double-glazed aluminium windows and access doors, double-glazed aluminium roof lights and aluminium sheet roofing.
Three circular roof lights to group areas
STAIRCASES £11.45/m2 Steel stairs with stainless steel mesh and glass balustrading; timber stairs to plant room.
EXTERNAL WALLS £131.60/m2 Insulated cavity walls of blue glazed brickwork and blockwork to lower ground floor; metal stud walls with insulated render to upper ground floor
WINDOWS & EXTERNAL DOORS £70.37/m2 Double-glazed aluminium windows, screens and doors; timber doors within aluminium frames to classrooms
INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS £63.04/m2 Metal stud and plasterboard partitions; glazed screens to classrooms; WC cubicles
INTERNAL DOORS £37.46/m 2 Flush timber doors and frames
INTERNAL FINISHES WALL FINISHES £20.97/m2 Painted plasterboard linings; acoustic panelling;
FLOOR FINISHES £44.60/ m2 Insulated reinforced screeds; seamless poured rubber flooring; carpet; timber strip flooring to hall; coir entrance mats; painted MDF skirtings
CEILING FINISHES £36.70/m2 Painted Gyproc MF plasterboard ceilings generally with acoustic boards to classrooms, hall and circulation areas; illuminated polycarbonate ceiling to WCs
FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS FURNITURE £35.79/m2 Reception desk; lockers; display boards; signage; mirrors; cupboards, recycled plastic worktops and sinks to classrooms etc; kitchen fit out for school meals SERVICES SANITARY APPLIANCES £10.65/m2
DISPOSAL INSTALLATIONS £8.11/m2
WATER INSTALLATIONS £14.16/m2
SPACE HEATING/AIR TREATMENT £72.93/m2 Gas-fired hot water underfloor heating: mechanical ventilation to WCs and kitchen
ELECTRICAL SERVICES £71.79/m2
LIFT AND CONVEYOR INSTALLATIONS £6.28/m2
PROTECTIVE INSTALLATIONS £29.73/m2 Intruder and fire alarms; entryphone and CCTV; disabled WC alarm calls; lightning protection
COMMUNICATION INSTALLATIONS £7.62/m2 Telephone and data system enclosure and cables; TV aerial system
BUILDERS' WORK IN CONNECTION £15.05/m 2
EXTERNAL WORKS LANDSCAPING AND UNDERGROUND DRAINAGE 2 Tarmac playgrounds with safety surfacing and extensive line marking; precast concrete paving to reception areas and tarmac car park; rendered blockwork walls and galvanised mesh fencing and gates, electric gate to car park; precast concrete 'seat' retaining wall units and naturally graded bank between upper and lower playgrounds; timber decking to hall terrace; top soil and turfing; foul and surface water drainage and new main sewer connection
PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCES PRELIMINARIES, OVERHEADS & PROFIT £219.41/m
COMPETITION WIN October 1999
STAGES A-D November 1999September 2000
TENDER DATE 19 December 2000
START ON SITE DATE 28 May 2001
CONTRACT DURATION 50 weeks
SCHOOL OPEN September 2002
GROSS EXTERNAL FLOOR AREA 3,550m2
CONTRACT JCT Local Authorities with Quantities,1998 Edition incorporating CDP Supplement
TOTAL COST £4,963,388.84
CLIENT London Borough of Lambeth
ARCHITECT Allford Hall Monaghan Morris: Simon Allford, Jonathan Hall, Paul Monaghan, Peter Morris, Ben Gibson, Susan Le Good, Tara de Linde, Anthony Martin, Fiona Selmes
CLIENT ADVISOR AFH Shaw Sprunt
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Elliott Wood
ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER Atelier Ten
QUANTITY SURVEYOR Cook & Butler
GRAPHIC DESIGNER Studio Myerscough
FURNITURE DESIGNER Andrew Stafford
ARTIST Martin Richman
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Robert Rummey Associates
ACOUSTICS Paul Gillieron Acoustic Design
MAIN CONTRACTOR Ballast Wiltshire
SELECTED SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Sedum roof RAM Roofing; precast concrete planks Finlay; glazing Technal; carpets/pinboards Heckmondwike; flooring Forbo Nairn; roof domes Xtralite; Kalzip roof Corus; render Rockwool; Thermalite blocks Jewson; external door timbers F R Shadbolts; external wall metal framing Ayreshire Steel Framing