St Silas School's rooftop terraces and the tube slide connecting levels (photo: Capita Symonds and Nick Guttridge)

The recently opened St Silas Primary School in Blackburn, Lancashire, has been a remarkable feat. In only eight weeks over the summer of 2010, Capita Symonds completed the design and engineering for the 2400 square-metre building a mile north-west from the city centre. Working directly with the Local Education Partnership – SHINE – and its contactor partner Balfour Beatty, also meant cost and programme certainty could be insured allowing demolition of the existing school to be undertaken just days after planning consent was obtained.

Located in a dense grid of Victorian workers’ terraced houses, the school accommodates 420 pupils in a thriving community of which a large proportion are Indian and Pakistani. With 99% of pupils hailing from an Islamic background, this Church of England-run school also provides an interesting example of cross community engagement and social mixing.

View of the school in the tightly-packed urban context (photo: Capita Symonds and Nick Guttridge)

The project comprises four linked blocks wrapping around a secure play courtyard: a single storey block with a rooftop play deck linked to the ground with a tube slide; two three-storey blocks linked by a bridge of class spaces of which the upper floor houses a mini-football pitch; and finally a main hall block with staff accommodation on top disguising plant areas. This design allows for over 800 sq m of useable play space off the ground level, over 400 sq m more than was previously provided on the existing flat site.

All classrooms have aspects onto the playgrounds (photo: Capita Symonds and Nick Guttridge)

The play of light and colour is deliberate throughout the school, with coloured perspex step in-fills flooding dining areas with a rainbow of light. The ‘wrapping’ elevation cladding system is a series of coloured, translucent and solid perspex fins designed to create a cost effective rapid solution to enclose the otherwise relatively cheap envelope. This allows the building to appear as a whole mass, but also breaks up the facades as the viewer moves past the building with the whole exuding a playful mix of transparency and lightness.

Early in the process the team worked with community leaders and identified a need for a public space on the high street that passes the site. As a result, 20% of the whole site has been given back to the community in the form of formal and informal gardens. These will be maintained by the community working with the school and local authority.

Photo: Capita Symonds and Nick Guttridge

Photo: Capita Symonds and Nick Guttridge

  1. Ian Maxwell Says:

    Born in Blackburn in 1946, in 1957, after 6years at St Silas’ I left the school when my father’s work took the family to Scotland. I was last in Blackburn in April 2009 and was lucky to see the old school before it was demolished.

    The new school looks amazing………..my very best wishes…

  2. Christine (Lister) Says:

    I attended from 1945 to 1951 and received a sound education there. I went to the Open Day in 2010 to see the building for the last time and visited yesterday to see ‘how it was getting on’ I was amazed. After on 18 months the children were back and the building looked stunning. I am looking forward to the next Open Day on the 26th October 2012.
    At the last Open Day I was shown round by a charming little boy and saw a happy school with well mannered pupils. Congratulations to you all and my best wishes for the future.