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West Drayton Primary School, London Borough of Hillingdon, by The Architects Practice

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Updates to this west London primary school show how multiple problems can be solved with one thoughtful solution, writes The Architects Practice’s Simon Foxell

Over the last decade, The Architects Practice has worked with many primary schools in the London Borough of Hillingdon, extending, repairing and, above all, improving the way they work, often with tiny budgets

West Drayton Primary School, just north of Heathrow Airport, was the first school in Hillingdon we worked with; we converted an underused changing room into a learning support unit in 2001. The school had recently appointed a dynamic new head, Adrian Ingham, to raise standards, and it was the start of a long relationship between practice and school as bids were submitted for project after project.

The school rapidly became an inspiring place for children to learn and develop, and was given Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ status in 2007.


The project shown is the transformation of the younger years playground from a shabby collection of run-down canopies and tarmac into a secure place for creative, and sometimes uninhibited, play, both under cover and outside. Four successful bids – to replace rotting windows, renew canopies, install disabled access and provide library facilities – were combined. Added together, these increments allowed for a greater project to be realised, including a long-cherished hope for a dedicated library.

West Drayton’s approach to teaching and learning creatively draws on the narrative power of stories. How better to celebrate this than to have a space that champions and focuses on the adventure and pleasure of reading?

In response to this wonderful and emotive brief, we designed a small building, but one with a huge soul that the head teacher has described as a ‘cathedral’.

Red on the outside and with a palisade crown that gives it the necessary height to work with the existing buildings, it is as if a box
is being opened to reveal hidden treasures. And on the inside is a warm book and timber-clad box with an exposed glulam frame soaring into a top-lit pyramidal roof. The frame doubles as bookshelving, and the intimate but inspiring space it encloses is ideal for a class of eager book-lovers, or one-to-one sessions between volunteers and more reluctant learners.

West Drayton Primary School

Start on site November 2005
Completion July 2006
Gross internal floor area 30m2
Type of contract JCT 05 Minor Works Building Contract
Total cost £182,000 (library, lift and associated works); £50,000 (playground), £52,500 (canopy)
Client West Drayton Primary School
Architect The Architects Practice
Structural engineer Price & Myers
M&E, landscape, lighting, acoustics and cost consultant The Architects Practice
Main contractor Famella Building Contractors

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