'Our design approach is basically just that schools should be really cheerful' says Peter Smith of Stephen Davy Peter Smith Architects. It's an approach which won the support of the London Borough of Enfield, which commissioned the practice to design an additional wing for Carterhatch Infant School. The extension adopts many of the features of the existing building - high ceilings, steel beams, and clerestory windows providing cross ventilation - but updates the post-war architecture to create spaces with a more informal feel.
Classrooms are 'multi-directional' with no fixed blackboards - being sent to the back of the class is a thing of the past. Each of the new rooms has its own distinctive character, with generous external windows, and internal windows onto the corridor are set at heights determined by the ages of the children in each particular class. One of the classrooms has a glazed corner taking full advantage of views of one of two wild cherry trees in the school's grounds. 'We wanted it to be as though children sitting in the classroom were sitting under the shade of a tree,' Smith explains.
Like Monahan Blythyn's 'buffer zone', an extra-wide corridor space provides a loosely-defined teaching/gathering/casual meeting space - a part of the project which was seen as self-indulgent but which the architect fought to keep. Many aspects of the original design disappeared as part of the cost-cutting, including storage which was to have been built into the walls, a rooflight over the meeting area, sun-shading, and landscape works. But the essence of the building remains, and is certainly cheerful thanks to the colour scheme. The exterior is white with one yellow wall, while the interior uses a composition of purple, yellow and orange.
The palette was first met with suspicion by Enfield Education Department, 'mainly,' says Smith, 'because we presented it really badly, just with a load of swatches'. But a coloured-cardboard model elicited a grudging acceptance: 'In the end the headmistress said 'It's only paint. We'll go along with it.'' In fact the colour seems to have pleased everybody except the owners of the house across the road, who have complained about the orange - for security reasons the building is lit up at night, and the orange wall is clearly visible through panels of glass. The architects aren't taking the complaint too seriously: 'We were thinking of complaining about their wallpaper'.