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Architecture Initiative wins go-ahead for DfE property company's first school

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Architecture Initiative has won approval for a free school in south-west London – the first scheme to be unveiled by government-owned property company LocatED 

Plans for the scheme in Kingston High Street include demolishing four office buildings on the site to provide a 2,044m² primary school as well as 11 flats overlooking the Thames and Hampton Court Palace.

The project is backed by LocatED, which was set up last year by the Department for Education to buy and develop sites for new free schools in England.

With a £2 billion budget, the company aims to help meet the government’s target of building the additional 110 free schools announced in the March budget and 600,000 school places by 2021. 

The Kingston primary school will be in a three, four and five storey building, providing spaces for 420 pupils, with two separate elements linked by a glazed bridge. It will be run by UAE-based education company GEMS.

Craig Shanley, associate at Architecture Initiative, said: ‘Many schools can be quite “clinical” in their design, whereas we believe children benefit from more playful environments, which is what the courtyard and bridge link in this design help to create.

‘The design strives to maximise an inner-city site – an increasingly common challenge for new schools – but it’s often the most challenging sites that result in the most creative designs.’

Project data

Location 45-51 High Street, Kingston-Upon-Thames, KT1 1LQ
Type of project Mixed use. Two-form-entry primary school (420 Pupils) and 11 residential units
Client LocatED / Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)
Trust/ building user GEMS Learning Trust
School name GEMS Kingston Primary Academy
Architect Architecture Initiative
Landscape architect Architecture Initiative
Planning consultant JLL
Structural engineer Price & Myers
MEP Calford Seaden
Transport consultant Robert West
Cost consultant Boyden Group

Architect’s view

The site has many complexities and planning constraints that have historically restricted development, with previous planning applications being refused. It is located within Kingston Old Town Conservation Area, adjacent to the Riverside South Conservation Area and therefore needs to be sympathetic and complementary to the surrounding properties flanking the site. It is also identified by the local authority as being a ‘gateway site’ to central Kingston. Further, it lies in Flood Zone 1, 2 and 3, and there are protected views that face both towards the site and out across towards Hampton Court Palace.

The key architectural aims for the site are to follow the pattern of the built form of the neighbouring buildings urban grain, while maximising site potential and creating an active relationship with high street. The development is proposed as two separate elements linked by a glazed bridge. The two elements create a courtyard space that provides a safe environment for children to play in away from the roads (where air quality is better), while also creating a noise buffer with the neighbouring properties. The element along the high street contains the school’s formal entrance and main hall, with new homes for the borough above. All teaching classrooms sit in the element that sits along South Lane.

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