One of the difficulties with the development of existing schools is that work has to be coordinated around day-to-day school life: carrying out £1 million worth of construction work during a six-week holiday is a tall order.
George Orwell School in Islington closed at the end of the 1999 summer term and reopened as the new Islington Arts and Media School that September. After an open competition, Islington council commissioned Rivington Street Studio to develop a feasibility study for a development including the renewal and upgrading of the existing buildings and a landscape strategy, and to carry out the first phase of construction.
The school's Victorian and 1960s buildings had deteriorated and the site was badly planned and inadequately maintained. As is often the case, the Victorian buildings were more robust than their '60s counterparts - with more generous floor-to-ceiling heights and harder-wearing walls and surfaces - making them easier to alter and upgrade.
Phase one involved general repairs and redecoration, along with the provision of a new entrance, reception area, kitchen and restaurant. The new entrance and threestorey-high reception area replaced an existing one-storey link between two separate 1960s blocks, providing much-needed horizontal access on the upper storeys. The entrance facade is substantially glazed into a steel sub-frame and automatic louvres provide smoke and natural ventilation.
Internally, the steel-frame structure is exposed and the walls of the existing buildings have been painted. A strip of patent glazing along the side of the flat roof allows light to wash down the walls. A redundant courtyard has been glazed, allowing the previous split-level catering facilities to be rationalised with a generous ground-level restaurant which opens off the main entrance.
Phase one has begun to make some sense of a dysfunctional environment but the buildings are in need of serious investment over several years. The challenge now is to continue to improve the environment without disrupting the day-to-day life of the school.
CLIENT London Borough of Islington
ARHITECT Rivington Street Studio
QUANTITY SURVEYOR Dobson White Boulcott
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Alan Baxter & Associates
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT J&L Gibbons
CONTRACTOR Higgins City
SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS steelwork subcontractor Johnson Steel Structures; internal and external paving Charcon; mesh screen Potter & Soar; external seats Escoset