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Colerne Primary School dining rooms, Colerne, Somerset, by Mitchell Taylor Workshop


Mitchell Taylor Workshop’s dining hall in Colerne Primary School is a lesson in Localism and community engagement, writes Peter Clegg. Photography by Peter Cook

‘It is all about listening to the pupil’s voice.’ This is the first thing headteacher Rob Parsons says when I ask him about the buildings completed at Colerne Primary School over the last few years.

And it is indeed the pupils who have been the real clients. Specifically, the seven and eight-year-olds, because they are the ones who will be at the school long enough to see a three-year building project come to fruition. They also helped to design the buildings, obtain planning permission, and, as far as possible, deal with the finances of projects that have been both challenging and rewarding for this community-focused primary school in the village of Colerne, situated between Chippenham and Bath.

Colerne happens to be the local primary school for both architect Piers Taylor, co-founder of practice Mitchell Taylor Workshop, and master carpenter Charley Brentnall. Both of them are used to projects involving school children. Mitchell Taylor Workshop won an RIBA award in 2007 for their Room 13 project for Hareclive Primary School in Bristol.

Brentnall has been involved in many communal building projects including the Olivier Theatre at independent boarding school Bedales, and most recently an extraordinary reciprocal frame structure for a school in Uganda. Together they have worked for many years with the weekend summer school Studio in the Woods that Taylor co-founded five years ago.

Not all primary schools have such useful neighbours, but when they do, it is extraordinary to see the creative energies that can be unleashed. The first project, a bike shed, emerged from a design process organised by Mitchell Taylor Workshop. Key Stage 2 students (aged between seven and eleven) working in groups of six designed a shelter, made models and PowerPoint presentations and ‘pitched’ to the school for their idea to be chosen. They talked about sourcing materials, ecological issues and cost planning. The winning design was developed with professional input from Taylor and Brentnall and the building process (with some careful supervision) also involved the pupils. It is exactly the same process that Taylor and Brentnall are now using with graduate AA students at Hooke Park.

The bike shed project started out with a budget of £5,000, and, by scrounging some free timber and free zinc for the roof, managed to come in just a little over budget.

The next project, a dining hall, was a bit more serious. The budget was creatively assembled from a number of sources by a headteacher who knew how to get the best out of the financial systems that were operating a couple of years ago. The incentive to build stemmed from the lack of kitchen and dining hall, which meant that everyone had to eat packed lunches. To quote Rob Parsons again, ‘Every child should have the option of a hot midday meal’. So the development of a kitchen and dining room was an essential, but at the same time the school had been developing its own allotments and rearing its own chickens.

Mitchell Taylor Workshop emerged through the necessary selection and tendering process and once again Brentnall came on board to help with a collaborative design process and talk about how to build in timber. This time there was more at stake. It was the children who had to understand what a £240,000 overall budget meant. They had to understand the implications of £1,000 per square metre. They were involved in value-engineering meetings when their initial ideas proved too expensive. It was they who presented personally to the planning committee, who could not possibly refuse them. A smart way to get an uncompromisingly modern building through committee in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

This time, a new range of issues was up for consideration. The children learned about the efficiency of underfloor heating, about solar orientation and the dangers of overheating, about what ‘superinsulation’ actually means, and about constructing roof beams that started out as tied beams but ended up as elegant plywood flitches. Again they made models and helped in the ‘barnraising’ erection sequence. They learned that rooflights admit three times as much daylight as windows and are easier to control with electric motors. They learned that you don’t need a window for ventilation – insulated flaps at the side of the building would do just as well and were better insulated (let’s hope they don’t warp). They also learned that you can control acoustics by leaving gaps between the lining boards on the walls and the floors so as to expose the insulation behind (let’s hope there are enough gaps). And I am sure they will appreciate the resulting quality of light, ventilation and acoustics. They chose the bright red floor paint, which soaks up solar radiation, though it was Taylor who chose the duck-egg blue to paint the exterior blockwork and provide a richer background colour to the larch boarding of walls, doors and shutters.

Colerne Primary School has a new dining hall, and a new function space that the village can use, but more importantly many of its children have experienced the process of building and the value of design. Their headteacher quotes the extraordinary statistic that 80 per cent of the jobs that those children will eventually end up doing simply don’t exist. So although vocational training is useful and academic training may help, the most important thing is that children learn to develop their own creativity and to exercise their imaginations and solve whatever problems life – or a substantial building project – may throw at them.

I am sure that the developments at Colerne school would be welcomed by the theorists of the coalition government. Here are parents working creatively to develop school buildings (Localism at work in the Big Society). Here is a radical approach to curriculum delivery. But look at what really makes it work. First, a dedicated architect to get the best value out of a minimal budget (a role of the profession that Michael Gove doesn’t seem to recognise). Second, a headteacher who believes in a radically creative curriculum, unencumbered by the requirement to teach the chronology of kings and queens. Finally, these projects would not exist without the finance provided by the previous government that made it possible for the ambitions to be raised. Sadly that no longer exists, so the school is looking elsewhere for its next project. They may look at changing the school’s energy supply systems and see what the feed-in-tariff would generate. And the children have already made links with a village in Nepal, which may be the location of their next building project: small amounts of money can go even further over there.

In the meantime, let’s hope that the government realises that small amounts of money can go a long way with the support of dedicated local architects. But most of all, it is necessary to harness the creativity of the children themselves. Listen to the voices, Michael Gove.

Peter Clegg is a senior partner of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Frame construction working detail


Start on site August 2010
Contract duration 20 weeks
Completion December 2010
Gross internal floor area 174m2
Form of contract JCT traditional
Total cost £198,740
Cost per m2 £1,100
Client Colerne Primary School
Architect Mitchell Taylor Workshop
Structural engineer Mann Williams
Main contractor Melhuish and Saunders
Sub-contractor Charley Brentnall
Electrical engineer Building Services Consultants
M&E consultant Gareth Ridings
CDM co-ordinator Rob Mitchell
Approved building inspector David Warren
Estimated CO2 emissions 25kg/m/yr
Average overall U-values 0.1W/m2/K


Specification notes

Below-ground dense concrete blocks

Above DPC dense concrete blocks to link building
Tarmac Topcrete, paint quality

Dense solid concrete coloured facing blocks
Lignacite Premier Facing Masonry

Lightweight concrete blocks
Tarmac Hemelite

Weep holes
Cavity Trays Beak Weep

Partial-fill cavity insulation

Cavity ties to partial fill insulation walls
Ancon Building Products Staifix RT2

Wall starters/connectors
Ancon Building Products 36/8 wall extension system

RIW Sheetseal 9000

Siberian larch cladding boarding Russwood Sila A/B Grade
19 x 100mm full-length vertical boards with no horizontal jointing

Breather membrane
A. Proctor Group, Frameshield 100

Self-adhesive bitumen damp proofing / tanking to timber frame details
RIW Sheetseal 226

Preformed collars for pipes, ducts and cables
Visqueen Building Products Top Hat units

Waterproof roof membrane
Sika Sarnafil S327-EL

Rigid urethane foam warm deck roof tapered insulation
Kingspan Insulation Thermataper TT46 LPC/ FM

Dry lining on timber
Lafarge Plasterboard Drywall Timber Stud Partition ETP 001
12.5mm GTEC E board

Ceiling lining on timber
Lafarge Plasterboard, RIR 04 system
12.5mm GTEC board

Skim plaster finish
Lafarge Plasterboard, Supreme

Pyramid House Thermalight powder-coated aluminium-hinged glass rooflights

Frameless glazed screen system Glazing Innovations. Timber substrate framing, aluminium strip covers to accept glass bonding. Double-glazed toughened laminated units bonded to frame and aluminium strips, mastic joints

Door seals
Lorient Polyproducts 1515
Batwing Integrity Extruded Elastomeric Seal

Fire door meeting stiles and
fire seals

Lorient Polyproducts

Roller shutters
HAG Shutters and Grilles, Alishield Type F3

Sealant to fire resisting smoke control doors / doorsets
Adshead Ratcliffe & Co, Arbokol 1000

Insulating glass rooflights
Pilkington K glass-laminated inner pane, Suncool toughened inner

Bonded cement-sand wearing screeds
CEMEX UK Operations Readyscreed SBR

Vinyl sheeting to WC and existing lobby
Polyflor Polysafe Standard Safety Floor

Emulsion paint to internal plastered walls and existing blockwork
Dulux Trade Diamond Matt and Satinwood

Masonry coating to new and existing masonry walls
Dulux Trade Weathershield Smooth masonry paint

Floor coating to wearing screeds Dulux Trade Diamond Glaze

WCs, cisterns and wash basins
Armitage Shanks

Insulation between and over stud frame
Kingspan Insulation Thermawall TW55

Below screed
Kingspan Insulation, 25mm insulation batt, 50mm underfloor heating insulation over

Perimeter insulation
Kingspan Insulation batts

Mineral wool acoustic insulation
Rock wool

Precast concrete edging to new gravel areas
Marshalls EF Flat Top Edgings


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Readers' comments (9)

  • Did the kids do the coping detail as well?

    Can we see please how this works?

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    Poor comment previous comment. This project is a tour de force. Such a difficult thing to deliver in such complicated circumstances. And to deliver with such aplomb. Once again, MTW prove that clear, incisive and well considered thinking is all that is required...yet so hard to do.

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  • Tour de force it may well be.

    But I just want to see how the coping detail works or is the end grain of that larch cladding really exposed?

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  • Christine Murray

    Response from Piers Taylor, Mitchell Taylor Workshop on the coping detail:

    'The timber (lack of) coping detail was something we developed a few years ago on Sanderson House (AJ 16th April 09). We'd always hated copings/flashings on the top of buildings, so researched with Trada how we might do away with it. The timber skin (slow grown extremely durable Siberian Larch) is effectively a fence sitting in front of the waterproofing which tucks down behind it. The top of the board is chamfered to encourage water run off - Trada suggest in this application the (untreated) board will last 75 years. For what it is worth we did a developed version of this detail on Starfall Farm that was in the 2011 AJ Small Projects, where there's also an oversized ribbed coverstrip. The detail defies conventional timber detailing wisdom, but Trada have convinced us that it does work.'

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  • quality comments!

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  • Great work.

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  • Not at all sure I understand your aversion (philosophical or otherwise) to copings, and neither am I convinced that Trada’s apparent advocacy of your detail (in contradiction to all of their published advise, I believe? ) does much to convince me either.
    Exposing end grain wood to the elements is a simple no for me, and frankly just seems a bit daft? Whilst the control of weathering and water run-off from a building envelope (facade, elevation – call it what you will) is a fundamental part of the joy and understanding of detailing building elements to create an holistic and lasting whole?

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  • P Taylor

    I agree and think in some ways we're saying the same thing - finding interesting ways of detailing is surely one of the driving factors of any project. The aversion to the coping is driven by, I guess, a fundamental modernist (not that we are necessarily, as I'm not big on all that po-faced restraint) desire to shed a building of what are perhaps, in essence, classical adornments (or at least part of their legacy). If we can find a way to do it, in this case, where (despite your scepticism) Trada suggest the cladding will last 75 years, then, um, not sure what the problem is? Debunking the received wisdom is surely part of the fun, particularly if it works? Somehow it seems to be making you a bit angry...? I wonder, though, if you follow your argument through, whether the roof is an issue - epdm is effectively guaranteed when laid flat for 25 years - should we only specify pitched roofs with tiles with increased head lap and 2 layers of felt? Isn't wanting to find the edges of the technology part of the joy of what we do as architects and part of the ongoing quest!? Interesting that it has at least provoked a debate, so thanks!

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  • ...but it was determined not to resort to a default capping solution - the architectural equivalent of drawing a thick cartoon outline around the flat roof to define where the building ends and sky begins...
    Not your own thoughts describing your Sanderson House project I hope?
    Your points above are entirely reasonable, and to an extent of course I applaud your conviction, but conviction should also be judged against what is appropriate to function - so If you need to specify a pitched roof with 2 layers of felt because its appropriate...in my view you probably should etc.
    Similarly if hundreds of years of timber construction suggest the use of a coping (or some other 21 C means?) to protect end grain timber...well, it’s maybe not such a bad idea?
    However, I sense we must agree to disagree and forge our separate discourse – one weathered and one not , but thank you for taking the time to respond.

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