If architecture plb's school in Jersey (AJ 15.2.01) was about growing a pearl, PCKO's recently completed major extensions to Hayes School in Bromley are about knitting.
The Jersey project created a new school around a substantial Edwardian mansion. At Hayes there is similarly an existing Victorian house, but this is part of a functioning school and only one building in a motley collection of typical post-war school buildings (mostly from the '50s and '60s) and temporary huts.
At Jersey the mansion forms the central focus of a new campus, whereas at Hayes the new additions shift the centre of gravity so that the Victorian house can function very happily and symbolically as a lodge. In both cases, of course, a century-old building lends an air of gravity and tradition. Other parallels can be drawn between the two, but the most interesting difference is that PCKO had to deal with the stringencies of DfEE funding, and herein lies the important lesson of Hayes. As a final comparison, it is worth noting that like Jersey, this project was won in competition (in 1997) against names with national reputations in school buildings. This is PCKO's first school.
But back to the knitting. The competition brief set out a requirement for several general classrooms, music and IT spaces, a new library, multipurpose hall and additional changing rooms. There was the expectation that the architect would take the opportunity to give the school a new image, and PCKO grasped the challenge with both hands. One hand was providing the school with a new focus, and the other using the new buildings to join the disparate collection of buildings together with new circulation routes, thereby giving the campus a new sense of identity.
There is little pattern to be seen in the existing layout. Some of the buildings are arranged orthogonally, and some follow the contours. They do not relate well to each other and, as is often the case when buildings are added in an ad-hoc way, there are many bits of leftover and unused spaced.
The first new feature, and the one which sets the image for the whole school, is the creation of a new 'square' - a round one - at the entrance. The school is approached from the road through mature trees - these were the grounds of a substantial residence - and the visitor is presented with the bold concave facade of the new library. This fragment of a circle is rooted to the radial geometry of the paving and balanced by the Gothic geometry of the 'lodge' (which appropriately contains the reception and administration). A further small fragment of the circular wall fronts the new changing rooms, but the desire to create a more complete curved enclosure to the entrance was the first victim of a tight budget: the dull corrugated cladding of the 1970s sports hall remains exposed to view.
There is something in this 'urban' space that is reminiscent of Venturi's projects of the 1960s - and described in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture - in which he sought to draw attention to the expressive possibilities of the multiple functions of building facades - containing spaces at one scale within and providing a backdrop to spaces at a much larger scale without.This can result in complex resolution and the architect has made a refreshingly bold attempt.
Schools are unusual in having an uncertain relation to their entrances, and Hayes is no exception. It is not entirely clear how to proceed. There is a door in the library facade, but this is not really a public one. The broad corridor which leads off to the left of the library is in practice the school entrance, but it is typically anonymous and a little bleak. It does, however, form the beginning of the second of the project's main features, the school street. This new circulation route fills in the gaps between the library and the multi-purpose hall, around the main school hall. It then forms a wide, glazed colonnade along the south side of one teaching block and links to the end of a second. What were dull, awkward and leftover outside spaces have been transformed into the unifying spine of the school's circulation. But it is much more than a corridor, and as it emerges from between buildings into the daylight it is a genuine promenade and a usable space in its own right.
The third part of the development is an L-shaped range of classrooms for music, media and general teaching in the angle between hall and library that helps to define a separate, subsidiary, courtyard.
One of the facts of life with any school development is persuading the DfEE to pay for large areas of non-teaching space. No objections are raised provided work can be completed within the allowable cost. This has sounded the death knell of many interesting schemes, but PCKO was determined that the 'added value' should be sacrosanct, even if economies had to be made elsewhere.
It is a tribute to the architect's doggedness and willingness to continually rethink details and materials to keep costs down, that there is not much evidence of serious economies when the project is compared with other similar buildings.
Two particular methods have been adopted to create a sense of unity - and an individuality that lifts the campus above its previous ordinariness.
Generally speaking, the new buildings are constructed using simple, everyday materials and techniques: steel frame, rendered blockwork, aluminium curtain walling and profiled metal roofing are all used, without reinventing details. Some of the large areas of rendered wall were to be clad in fashionable cedar, but cash did not stretch that far.
For the two particularly visible elements of structure - the columns which support the welcoming roof overhang to the library, and the row of seemingly random columns in the school street - the architect has devised, with the engineer (Price and Myers), a slender tree-like column, branching at the top into four or six struts. Earlier drawings show a wish for these to be more naturalistic, but the rigours of the budget no doubt prevailed. The idea of columns being more or less fanciful representations of trees has a long history. The architect's explanation that the genesis of the idea was a reflection on the number of mature trees on the site, and the wish for the roofs to be seen as a canopy floating free above the walls, is plausible if perhaps whimsical. Somehow - and maybe this is a result of a budget that does not always allow design intentions to be ruthlessly carried through - the result looks a little crude and insubstantial. The trees are not quite significant enough for the intention to be obvious.
There are a number of nice spatial touches. The corridor around the new music rooms is in the middle of a deep space and, to bring light in, there are three very long and narrow curved lightwells in the first floor slab. One of these lightwells is cut out on both sides of the wall separating the corridor from the library, leaving the glazed corridor wall intriguingly free-standing.
Where the school street meets the existing refectory, an internal terrace with sinuously curving front wall makes a dramatic transition between old and new.
A cheaper route to character is via paint.
Wild is only just too strong a description of the colour scheme. It is important for a school to have its own identity, but it can be visually chaotic where wall surfaces are covered with all sorts of graphic information.
For these reasons, the rainbow of colours at Hayes seems overdone. Lime green, yellow, orange and purple make an appearance alongside more restrained dark and light blues and greens. Too many colours applied to different components and surfaces can neutralise their integrity and give an impression almost of camouflage. The children may well think it good and anarchic, but those spaces, particularly around the music block, where a smaller palette of the bold colours has been chosen, seem to strike a better balance of interest and order.
To be successful - and bearable - the kind of conservatory added to the south face of the classroom block requires sophisticated environmental modelling and control, particularly in the summer. These again are not features that can easily be supported by tight budgets. Non-mechanical means have been relied upon, with 50 per cent semitransparent glazing in the roof, extract louvres along the ridge to facilitate stack effect, and no heating.Time will tell whether this simple design works for all seasons, but on a sunny day in May conditions were perfectly acceptable.
Landscaping is often vulnerable to cuts. It is so easy to save money simply by leaving bare grass, tarmac or paving. Here, it was hoped that the entrance circle could be paved in more complex patterns, but fortunately such is the strength of the geometry that it can survive on its own.
Landscaping generally has not yet been carried out.
Six months after opening, Hayes School is a bit vulnerable in places, and one worries, as always with multicoloured schemes, as to what will happen when the maintenance cycle takes over. But it is an important lesson in what can be achieved when the architect recognises priorities and goes for them.