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Ballifield, Sheffield

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Prue Chiles Architects' strong but friendly architectural presence reorganises this Sheffield school's entrance

For Ballifield Community Primary School, the creation of a new school entrance as part of the project is as important as the two new classrooms.With existing modest-quality buildings, the attractive and evidently new entrance reshapes the approach to the school. It leads in past a reception window directly to the school hall - good for community as well as school functions. And the entrance is made more lobby than corridor-like by its generous width, its bright rooflighting, the display cases of students'work, and by the way the new classrooms' plan is inflected to facet the new wall.

With this entrance and the new WCs adjoining the classrooms, the project is wellintegrated with the existing school while being capable of acting as a stand-alone unit. As at Brunswick (p28-29), this is a two-classroom year base, with a sliding/folding partition allowing it to be used as a single volume.

To some extent the architectural treatment argues against a single-volume reading. Two distinct classroom spaces with differently oriented monopitch ceilings meet at a low transition strip on the partition line. Rather, the main layout focus is on smaller groups. Each classroom has a window niche with inwardopening windows, a fold-down desk and seating for four to five small people. The easterly classroom also has a balcony group space, its stair reached through 'secret' doors in the birch ply wall lining. From this room, glazed doors also open directly to the pond and still-maturing landscape, another teaching space.

The busyness and warmth of the architecture is part of the building's message. Prue Chiles' big picture is to see nature and technology working together rather than being opposed.

And there are some helpful educational specifics to this, such as the clearly articulated timber and cable roof trusses, the vision panels in the floor showing the underfloor heating manifold, and in the wall showing some of the Warmcell recycled newspaper insulation, and the use of materials, notably the timber, the formaldehyde-free carpets and a highly coloured recycled-plastic-bottle work surface.

ICT has a presence, with 30 wireless laptops and an interactive whiteboard, but here the technology is not planned to be so much in the foreground as it is in several of the other classroom projects - nor is it neglected. The architect has created a service void behind the walling plywood to accommodate cabling for future equipment.

There is a lightheartedness to this design, a message that learning can be fun. The teachers say that the children love the classrooms; they like the difference, they like the materials and they feel special.

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