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Capita Symonds completes perspex-clad 'pocket' primary school

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Capita Symonds’ £7.5 million St Silas Primary School in Blackburn, Lancashire, has opened its doors to pupils

The three-storey project was built on a tight 60m x 40m sloping site surrounded by terraced housing and is clad in coloured perspex fins.

The practice designed the 2,400m2 scheme in just eight weeks during the summer of 2010 using BIM which ‘enabled hand drawn concepts to be worked into three dimensions’.

Capita Symonds' St Silas - learning corridor

Capita Symonds’ St Silas - learning corridor

The architect’s view

The primary challenge of the scheme design was the size of the existing site which, at just 60 metres by 40 metres, was considerably less than the typical recommended BB99 site allowance. In a bid to provide all classrooms with direct access to external play space, the team utilised the area’s topography, resulting in a three storey solution totalling 2,200m² m which is layered over and pushed into the site and terraced to maximise the external area with rooftop play spaces while using level changes advantageously to create a simple, inspiring solution.

The project comprises four linked blocks wrapping around a secure play courtyard: a single storey block with a rooftop play deck linked to the ground with a tube slide; two three-storey blocks linked by a bridge of class spaces of which the upper floor houses a mini-football pitch; and finally a main hall block with staff accommodation on top disguising plant areas. This design allows for over 800m² of useable play space off the ground level, over 400m² more than was previously provided on the existing flat site.

St Silas School, Blackburn. May 2012 - courtyard

St Silas School, Blackburn. May 2012 - courtyard

The disposition of the interlocking blocks is laid out to maximise teaching spaces and allow different learning styles with flexible indoor and outdoor teaching areas. The year groups spiral up in plan around the courtyard with the eldest at the top of the school. The flow between these blocks allows flexibility for whole school activity; and community events while the library is accessible from the main foyer and acts as a bridge through the hall with a large window to the street, again encouraging community and parental use. The pivotal internal space in the school - a ‘through’ entrance hall - is focused on a cascade of giant steps, acting as a central gathering space to provide a stopping point in the mornings, a special space for learning, or even a small performance venue.

The play of light and colour is deliberate throughout the school, with coloured perspex step in-fills flooding dining areas with a rainbow of light. The ‘wrapping’ elevation cladding system is a series of coloured, translucent and solid perspex fins designed to create a cost effective rapid solution to enclose the otherwise relatively cheap envelope. This allows the building to appear as a whole mass, but also breaks up the facades as the viewer moves past the building with the whole exuding a playful mix of transparency and lightness.

The locally sourced perspex - from Darwen, just a few miles away - creates quick and ‘cropped’ reflections of the local context when viewed in passing and adds to the ‘layering’ of form, colour and transparency to create a unique learning environment in a very special place.

Early in the process the team worked with community leaders and identified a need for a public space on the high street that passes the site. As a result, 20 per cent of the whole site has been given back to the community in the form of formal and informal gardens. These will be maintained by the community working with the school and local authority.

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