Over the past decade or so, architecture plb has staked out a reputation for high-quality school building, not least on the island of Jersey.
Having won a competition in 1991 for a new masterplan for Jersey College for Girls, the former Plincke Leaman Browning went on to win a further competition a year later for a new secondary school at Haut Vallee, which was completed in 1998. The first phase of the girls' college - its prep school - was handed over in January 1996, and the masterplan is now nearing completion with the sports centre just coming out of the ground.
In the new buildings, architecture plb has continued in its own tradition of reflecting the more complex brief of a secondary school to develop a community of geometrically distinct buildings loosely tied together and creating a rich hierarchy of external spaces and routes.
At Haut Vallee, the school was built on a flat site and its geometrically varied series of buildings was therefore effectively generated from within (apparently with some help from Kandinsky's paintings). The girls' college is a more urban and awkwardly elongated site with falls in many directions.
It contains the imposing listed Edwardian College House, which had to be retained and celebrated - a very strong grain of sand around which to grow a pearl.
This site had to take in a playing field belonging to the boys' Victoria College and extensive parking and bus set-down facilities - a safe pedestrian route being of paramount importance. The school buildings are therefore sandwiched along a route between a two-storey car park at the northeastern end - which occupies nearly a third of the building curtilage - and the playing field at the southwestern.
Starting from the car park, the initially free-standing and separately defined buildings close in to almost engulf and imprison the College House. It is only at upper levels that the separateness of all the buildings can be seen.
Division into teaching blocks is pretty standard: two classroom blocks, a science block, a multi-purpose hall, and an art and technology block, the latter shared by Victoria College. The sports complex is to be on the other side of the main road which flanks the site, connected by a tunnel.
The primary shapes of the blocks are similarly distinct: linear for the classrooms, square for the laboratories, elliptical for the hall and rectangular with a circular well for the art and technology. But this is just the starting point. Each of these forms is elaborated in its own way, with curved elements playing a major part in creating character and defining the spaces between.
The two classroom blocks, for example, are essentially the same, although one is curved to follow the shape of the site and one is straight. Each has a Ronchamp-esque staircase and WC pod at one end marking the entrance, and a staircase at the other - but one is rectangular and the other circular.
The hall is curious in being an elongated ellipse; inside it is designed to be subdivided for a variety of functions - but with not a curved wall to be seen. The art and technology block is a play of orthogonal lines, curves and circles on a grand scale. The open circular centre is effectively just a ramp connecting two levels and joins the sinuous stepped ramp which leads down to the tunnel under the road. Its flat roof is planted as a parterre and replaces the site area lost. On the whole, complexity for its own sake is just about avoided, and the rich variety of spatial experience in moving around the site does not seem forced.
Most buildings have a main approach from which the whole character can be judged. Schools are unusual in that the ceremonial entrance - which may be important symbolically and architecturally - is often not used by the students.At the girls' college, students tend to arrive by car so that the effective entrance is from the car park. From here students enter their classrooms directly.
The second classroom block, the hall - and at the far edge the technology block - come together in the administration area around the base of College House. This is the heart of the school and where new and old are integrated.
At ground floor level, the elliptical hall, the circular staircase and the curving circulation route are set against the right angle of the existing house to produce an informal flowing space that acts as corridor, dining hall and foyer - and a link to the principal entrance from Claremont Road.
It is particularly in the richness of the varied circulation areas produced by this informal site layout that the plb approach brings real rewards.When Lutyens was criticised for his extravagant use of space he would counter that what was being called a waste of space was nevertheless a real gain in space. Schools should be galleries to display the life within them and the girls' college offers numerous opportunities for exhibitions as well as places for informal meeting and classroom overspill; the wavy corridor of the technology block, the vast lobby to the science block and the dining area are all examples.
But all this space does not come cheap.
Most architects working in the education sector would not find scope within their budgets for this kind of spatial generosity.
With the slightly more generous space standards and budgets allowed by the States of Jersey it is possible to let the buildings breathe a little more - but it still needs imaginative designers to grasp the opportunity. It also needs a skilful client, and the fact that the project is being completed very much as originally designed is a tribute to the support and cooperation of the Education Department and the headteachers involved.
Structure follows the needs of the plan - and is little displayed for its own sake. It is generally of concrete frames and load-bearing walls to cope with the proliferation of curved walls. Servicing follows the precedent set by the earlier Jersey schools in a commitment to natural ventilation and daylight. There is less use here of the technological approach to natural servicing - and the expressive qualities of its components - but cross-ventilation, roof lighting and solar shading are used to maximum effect.
External detailing further defines and reinforces the various components of the plan. The very simple palette is effectively two materials - a honey-coloured render and dark-grey aluminium windows. Render is a straightforward choice for Jersey but there is little else to suggest its location: this is the International Style. Although there are some highlights - copper cladding for the leaf-shaped roof over the hall and some tiled columns and staircase walls - the designer sensibly judged that there was enough complexity already.
But there is still great attention to detail: punched and corner windows on circulation routes, for instance, contrast convincingly with the curtain walling of the science block.
All of this contrasts with the refurbished granite and clay tile of College House. Granite is used for new retaining walls and for the drum in the technology block, but these are essentially 'earthworks'where the visual quality of the stone is suited to a role of setting a base. Again there are a few reminders internally, where granite door surrounds puncture the otherwise uniformly plastered walls.
So what does all this complex elaboration amount to? Is God in the detail, or at least in the detailed working out? Is a collection of buildings, each carefully worked out, and conceived more as a village, either enough or appropriate to give definition and sense of identity to a school community? A school like Pimlico in London, for example, has an extremely strong and concentrated form based on the idea of an internal promenade as the generator of identity; Oxbridge colleges similarly have the enclosed quadrangle around which life revolves. If it is believed that some ordering schema can make the whole greater than the sum of the parts, then the idea of a village seems somehow not enough.
In the case of Jersey College for Girls, however, the retention of the existing house gives the school a symbolic and architectural focus. This strong centre takes some of the pressure off the new buildings and allows their informality to be enjoyed. Even if this idea escapes the children, they should recognise a rewarding and sympathetic learning environment.
The architecture, compact site and listed building all influenced the method of framing the structure. New buildings are framed in concrete and load-bearing masonry due to irregular plan shapes.However, more use is made of timber and steel at roof levels where slimmer profiles were required. The buildings are stabilised by selected masonry concrete walls or columns. The restricted height of the development forced the buildings down into the ground. This had the advantage of allowing the foundations to be shallower strip or pad footings into either weathered granite (south end) or gravelly silt which lay beneath the topsoil. A network of mainly concrete external retaining walls separates areas where the level has been reduced.
The 'rubber plant leaf ' profile to the roof of the hall is formed with timber joists supported on steel beams, which span radially from central steel gutter beams on a perimeter concrete ring beam. The central beams are supported on two concrete 'goal post' frames which form partition walls to the rooms below. The pyramid roof to the science building comprises timber roof trusses on steel beams and lightweight steel columns which sit on a concrete framed 'table'at first floor.
The timber roof joists to the classroom building span parallel to the front facade and are on profiled steel beams which cantilever to the front and rear. Reinforced concrete floor beams cantilever over the corridor to provide column-free circulation. The circular columns around the dining hall were formed with disposable cardboard shutters and this produced such an excellent marble effect that the scheduled tiled cladding was omitted. Internal columns in the circular stair tower are avoided by spanning the spiral stairs on to curved concrete perimeter walls.
The conversion of College House from a former dormitory to classrooms and administration required an extensive refurbishment. To avoid damaging the ceilings below, the timber floors have been strengthened by inserting additional joists from above. New openings were formed in the random granite walls by framing in concrete-cased steelwork. Close liaison with the other members of the design team over the type of heating oil enabled the boiler flues to be located in a carefully reconstructed existing chimney between the plant room and kitchen.This avoided larger, higher flues which would have had an adverse impact on the elevations.
Costs based on tender sum
SUBSTRUCTURE FOUNDATIONS £48.22/m2 Deep strip and pad foundations, suspended in-situ concrete slab, RIW Toughseal dpm
SUPERSTRUCTURE FRAME £42.50/ m2 Loadbearing blockwork and concrete frame, with steel frame to upper floors
UPPER FLOORS/BALCONIES £49.02/ m2 Reinforced in-situ concrete slabs (Refurbishment works: strengthening existing timber floors, overlaying with acoustic flooring)
ROOF £92.18/m2 Built up zinc roof, Sarnafil warm roofing to flat roofs, inverted roof to paved areas. Coxdome and Ubinx circular rooflights (Refurbishment works: general refurbishment including replacing leadwork)
STAIRCASES £11.75/m2 Reinforced in-situ concrete internally, steel stair to science block and external fire escapes, stainless steel handrails (Refurbishment works: refurbishing timber and granite stair including replacing section of east iron and mahogany balustrading)
EXTERNAL WALLS £79.98/m2 Blockwork cavity walls, render finished.Cedar boarding to assembly hall, granite walling adjacent outside stage area (Refurbishment works: repointing and rebuilding section of granite walls)
WINDOWS & EXTERNAL DOORS £97.97/m2 Polyester powder coated aluminium double glazed (Refurbishment works: part refurbishment and replacement of timber sash windows. Oak double doors to two main entrances.Hardwood doors to newly formed entrances)
INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS £29.79/m2 Blockwork (Refurbishment works: timber stud and plasterboard)
INTERNAL DOORS £28.98/m2 Laminate faced flush doors.Ash screens (Refurbishment works: laminate faced flush doors, timber architraves to match existing)
INTERNAL FINISHES WALL FINISHES £29.21/m2 Plaster and paint, tiling to WCs (Refurbishment works: strip off plaster to sections of walls, replace with renovating plaster, burn off painted plaster, seal and paint)
FLOOR FINISHES £29.83/m2 Carpet generally, vinyl to specified areas. Timber and vinyl skirtings. Timber floors to assembly hall and dining area (Refurbishment works: carpet generally, vinyl to specified areas. Timber skirtings to match existing. Remove all ceilings and replace with plasterboard)
CEILING FINISHES £27.89/m2 MF ceiling, plasterboard and paint (Refurbishment works: remove all ceilings and replace with plasterboard)
FITTINGS & FURNISHINGS FURNITURE £102.58/m2 Storage cupboards, worktops, science desks and preparation area, lighting gantry to assembly hall, retractable seating bank.WC cubicles; (Refurbishment works: reception desk and screens, kitchenettes to each floor, storage units and worktops)
SERVICES SANITARY APPLIANCES & MECHANICAL INSTALLATIONS £101.80/m2 White glazed sanitaryware, radiant panel heating system, mechanical ventilation to WCs and kitchen, oil-fired boilers.Gas installation to science block, fully fitted kitchen
ELECTRICAL INSTALLATIONS £117.51/m2 Lighting and power installations.Conduit for data system, fire alarm installation, security installation including CCTV.Lightning protection
LIFT AND CONVEYOR INSTALLATIONS £18.64/m2 Eight-person lift to each block
BUILDERS' WORK IN CONNECTION £21.06/m2
PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCES PRELIMINARIES, OVERHEADS AND PROFIT £232.15/m2
EXTERNAL WORKS LANDSCAPING, ANCILLARY BUILDINGS £677.020 Tarmac car park, block paviors and slabs to pedestrian areas, timber deck stage area and landscaped amphitheatre, retaining walls, repointing and rebuilding section of existing granite boundary walling, remodelling entrance.Netball court, underground drainage and services
Cost per m2 Per cent (£) of total
DEMOLITIONS /ALTERATIONS 13.73 1.17
SUBSTRUCTURE 48.22 4.11
Frame 42.50 3.62
Upper floors/balconies 49.02 4.18
Roof 92.18 7.86
Staircases 11.75 1.00
External walls 79.98 6.82
Windows and external doors 97.97 8.35
Internal walls and partitions 29.79 2.54
Internal doors 28.98 2.47
Group element total 432.17 36.84
Wall finishes 29.21 2.49
Floor finishes 27.83 2.37
Ceiling finishes 27.89 2.38
Group element total 84.93 7.24
FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS 102.58 8.75
Sanitary appliances/ mechanical installation 101.80 8.68
Electrical services 117.51 10.02
Lift installations 18.64 1.59
Building work 21.06 1.80
Group element total 259.01 22.09
PRELIMINARIES 232.15 19.80
TOTAL 1,172.79 100.00
Costs supplied by Steve Southern, Tillyard
START DATE November 1997
COMPLETION DATE September 1999
TOTAL FLOOR AREA 5,898m2
FORM OF CONTRACT JCT80
TOTAL COST £8.4 million
CLIENT The States of Jersey Education Committee
ARCHITECT architecture plb: John Browning, Richard Burgess, Heidi Corbet, Ian Deans, Ron Dobson, Richard Jobson, Rebecca Knowles, Simon Lamprell, Billy Prendergast, Rachel Sayers, John Waldron, Paul Williams, Fiona Wood
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER AND SERVICES ENGINEER Arup Rothwell
QUANTITY SURVEYOR Tillyard CONTRACTOR Charles le Quesne
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Plincke Landscape
ACOUSTIC ENGINEER Arup Acoustics
CLERK OF WORKS The States of Jersey
SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS fire protection AJ Walker; decorators AR Laing; mastic Advanced Sealants; moveable walls Alco Systems; gutters Aluserve; ss fittings Ancon Clark; site electrics Arrow Electrics; sealing to hall Audience Systems; dry lining BCN Drylining Systems; kitchen units Beaumont Kitchen & Bathrooms; roller shutter Bolton Gate Company; Vandex waterproofing Building Renovations; electrics CFM Electrical Contractors; WC partitions Caradon Plumbing Solutions; bi-fold door Clark Door; lighting stage Commercial Electronics; formwork moulds Cordex; groundworks DB Cummins; carpentry Dave Matthews; diamond drilling Diadrill; internal fittings Diamik; lintels Expamet Building Products; fencing Fencing Centre; metalwork Five Oaks Iron Works; dry lining Five Star Drylining; external paving GB Paving; granite/stone Granite Products; mechanical H&V Building Services; support work Haki; ss fittings Halfen; stonemasons Heritage Stonemasonry; ironmongery Higrade; leadwork/plumbing Hill D; metalwork JM Welding; reinforcement Jersey Steel; scaffolding Jubilee Scaffolding; concrete work K Dickenson; external louvres LBJ Fabrications; granite La Saline Quarry; carpentry Laffoley Joinery; flat roof Laminar Roofing; doors Leaderflush & Shapland; temporary roofing Luce's Roofing; suspended ceilings McGarragle; blockwork Nixon & McKenna; lifts Otis Lifts; plastering Paddington Plasterers, Universal Plastering; glaziers Pallot Glass; windows Parkwood Engineering, Tower Shopfitting; surfacing Ronez; scaffolding SGB; metal staircases Southern Counties Steel; stainless steel Test Valley Engineering; steel erectors Turner Frank; metal roof Varla; haulage WP Skips; flooring Winstone Flooring; plaster/render YAN Plasterers
architecture plb www.archplb.co.uk