Five years into the BSF programme, Anshen + Allen’s Titus Salt School in Shipley, near Bradford, shows the state of the art of school design, says Kaye Alexander
Anshen + Allen’s Titus Salt School in Shipley, Bradford, along with the firm’s recently completed Tong High, also in Bradford, made the news last week for all the wrong reasons. Teachers at the schools threatened to walk out, fearing that ventilation design flaws – and the schools’ extensive use of glass – were putting pupils at risk. Three pupils fainted at Tong High during the early summer heat wave, which saw classroom temperatures soar to 35oC. But Anshen + Allen maintains that naturally-ventilated Titus Salt is sound. On page 30, project architect Dean Murphy outlines its heating and ventilation strategy.
Yet Titus Salt has many other factors working in its favour. Coming in at less than £1,800/m2, it is good value for money. It has a simple, bold aesthetic: white rendered walls offset by rainbow splashes of colour applied to panels, mixed with glazing. Six wings hang off a central spine, which create a series of informal break-out teaching spaces inside and garden courtyards outside, giving Titus Salt a distinctive form without resorting to special effects or ‘iconic’ posturing.
It’s a good example of the kind of school that is beginning to emerge from the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, now four years old. One of four pathfinder projects designed as a national standard benchmark for the first wave of Bradford’s BSF programme, Titus Salt was given the thumbs-up by CABE last month, although its 1,520 pupils have been attending it since September 2008.
The school takes its name from the 19th century philanthropist who built for his woollen mill workers the nearby Saltaire Village (1850-70), now given World Heritage protection. Set between woodland and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the school occupies a long narrow, sloping site.
The architect has used this slope to create a lower ground floor, which accommodates a breakfast room for students. Shared school and community facilities are located at one end of the spine, while a flight of steps the height of the lower ground floor takes visitors into teaching wings and the sports hall, which is equipped with a climbing wall, assembly space and dance studio.
‘When visitors enter they catch glimpses of activity,’ says Murphy. ‘Bringing these facilities forward also enables this part of the building to remain active, while the remainder can be locked down’.
Beyond is the bright, daylit atrium, which marks the boundary between community and school. Overlooked by a series of balconies from the upper levels, this central space can be used as a performance area or as a dining room extension.
Here, we take a closer look at the environment and details of Titus Salt School.
The ribbon-like plan of the school means it almost touches its natural boundaries of canal and woodland, while breaking up into modules what might otherwise have formed a huge mass. The school replaces an existing 1960s block, which remained operational throughout the new building’s 19-month construction and added further constraints to the already tight site.
Remarkably, the building’s configuration has remained true to Anshen + Allen’s initial tender proposal back in 2005. The design emerged unscathed from the value engineering process. Viewed from nearby Saltaire, the school appears to nestle in the woodland, an impression which is enhanced by Anshen + Allen’s decision to build into the slope, and the fingers of teaching gardens reaching into the landscape. Extensions, in the form of an extra wing and the Sure Start children’s centre, which has been put on hold, have been worked into the project.
‘Future-proofing a school does not mean pre-empting new technologies or ways of teaching,’ says Murphy. ‘It is about creating a building that gives hints as to how it can be used in alternative ways. This doesn’t mean leaving rooms empty – there is nothing flexible about programme-less space.’
From the outset it was important that Titus Salt School had a strong community presence. ‘As part of the BSF process, we engaged in a highly collaborative consultation with pupils, teachers, community stakeholders and educationalists to create a building that would belong to the community,’ says Murphy.
Anshen + Allen’s task was to interpret the dual aspect of this community and deliver a design which considered both the school’s own community of staff and pupils and its relationship to the local community.
Outside dining areas and courtyard gardens allow the grounds to be used extensively, while internal breakout spaces between classrooms bring an informality to the teaching wings. These are loosely modelled on the ‘strawberry clusters’ developed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects for its John Madejski Academy in Reading and Bristol Metropolitan College.
‘The breakout spaces and modern facilities are more adult – they provide students with an important school-to-college transitional space,’ says Sue Mansfield, head of Titus Salt School.
Other aspects of the design focus on opening up the school to wider community use. The entire east end of the school, which houses sports and performance facilities, can operate independently during the evening and at weekends.
‘The school were insistent that they wanted linear teaching, with the 10 classrooms making up each department on a single floor,’ says Murphy. Each cluster contains classrooms, breakout areas, IT and learning resources, staff work bases, toilets and storage.
A number of the classrooms can be divided by folding partitions to create a ‘super-classroom’ for 60 students, which can also be used for examinations to help avoid the takeover of assembly and sports halls for this purpose each summer.
The side-by-side classroom doors create a distinct threshold into the teaching space. The art department, previously hidden ‘in what could only be described as a bunker’ according to Murphy, has been given the run of a large roof terrace, with 360 degree views over the surrounding landscape and Saltaire. ‘The art teacher cried when she saw the plans’ says Murphy.
Teaching methods are already changing to respond to the new environment, which includes a sensory and science garden to draw the students outside. ‘Despite the poor quality of the old building, Titus Salt School was always known locally as a good school,’ says Murphy. ‘Now the number of students putting Titus Salt School as their first or second choice has risen by 25 per cent. We hope that this is repeated at future new schools.’
We opted for a mixed-mode ventilation strategy. The majority of the teaching classrooms do not exceed 7.5m in depth to facilitate effective natural ventilation. Where a pure natural ventilation system was unsuitable, a hybrid solution was employed; selected classrooms and the main sporting and performing arts facilities use a combined natural and mechanical ventilation system.
The stack effect is used to regulate temperatures within the individual teaching clusters. When the entry doors to the teaching clusters are closed, each cluster forms a separate controlled environment. The central break-out spaces incorporate high-level opening roof lights, which use positive and negative pressures to allow hot air to be drawn out of the cluster. The inclusion of mechanical extracts also enables effective heat exchange during extremes of temperature. When the entry doors are open, the negative pressures created by the cooler air in the main academic street and atrium also draw out hot air. Low and high level openings in the street and atrium provide good cross-ventilation to ensure a well-controlled environment all year round.
Underfloor heating throughout the school helps to stabilise temperatures – it is the primary heating source in winter and acts as a passive cooling system in summer. This heating method has the added benefit of creating an unobstructed environment.
Dean Murphy, senior associate, Anshen + Allen
Tender date April 2005
Start on site date January 2007
Completion date August 2008
Gross internal floor area 15,145m2
Form of contract BSF standard form project agreement
Total cost £26 million
Cost per m2 £1,722
Client Integrated Bradford SPV One
Architect Anshen + Allen
Structural engineer SKM
Services engineer Troup Bywaters + Anders/Lorne Stewart
Acoustic engineer Buro Happold
Main contractor Educo
Annual CO2 emissions To be confirmed
Comment: Overheating and the Regs
The designers will have carried out an overheating check on all new schools under Building Regulation Part L requirements. There is a clause in the Regs’ overheating criteria, stating: ‘Designers and their clients may wish to go beyond the requirements in Building Reg-ulations to take more account of the impacts of future global warming on the risk of higher internal temperatures occurring more often.’
Building Bulletin 101 (BB101) gives the criteria required for the overheating check, but this is done using the test reference weather year (which is based on a 20-year [1984-2004] data set and supplied more for energy prediction purposes than for overheating) and even the design summer year (an actual year of data from the test reference set) is out of date, being based on data for London in 1989, the third hottest summer of the period. Over the previous few weeks, we have seen external temperatures far higher than those used to predict summer overheating and therefore you might see buildings getting hotter than 32oC, which is the top limit for comfort in a school classroom. The temperature used in BB101 is measured as an air temperature, which is not a good reflection of true comfort. Client bodies need to be mindful of this, but the result may be that more air-conditioned school buildings, which have a higher capital cost, are built.
Ant Wilson, business unit director, sustainable development group, building engineering, AECOM