The first Parent Promoted School in the UK, the Elmgreen School opened to students in September 2009. Part of the award-winning Lambeth BSF programme, it has been designed by Scott Brownrigg.
Although the school and the Parent Promoter Foundation (PPF) originally preferred a campus typology with individual buildings to encourage pupils to walk between them, it became apparent that this approach would not realise the school’s vision of focusing on community inclusivity and putting learning on show. Instead, a single enclosure building that incorporates some of the qualities of a quadrangle offered a much better match.
The design concept developed using the analogy of a medieval city where buildings are grouped around a central market square. In this way the school market square becomes the focus for learning by creating alternative connections between the different learning areas. The assembly hall, drama studio, dining room, sports hall and external terrace are all linked to the market square, permitting the spaces to be used flexibly for a large number of both school and community uses.
However, for the market square to be effective in the British climate required a roof that would transform it into a year-round quasi-external space. The challenge was to provide this large space with a tempered environment; one with a day-lit clear-span glass roof connecting the heart of the school with the outside.
The saw-tooth section of the glazed roof provides a dramatic canopy with skyscape. Timber batten detail to the courtyard walls and paving slabs on the floor provide references to the external environment. A functional space for social gathering has been created, with an overall ambience that is calm and welcoming.
Overheating in summer and high carbon dioxide levels are averted by the use of BMS-controlled openable lights in the sawtooth roof, a large temperature gradient created by the multi-storey space, and low-level ducted fresh air supplies. Opening lights and permanent ventilation permit the space to be classified as external for the purposes of means of escape.
The market square roof has been built with a Schüco glazing system using high performance glass from Pilkington. The glazing consists of 6mm clear, heat soaked, toughened glass with a 16mm argon gas cavity with silicone edge seal and an 8.8mm clear low-e laminated layer.
Suspended radiant heating panels heat surfaces rather than space and provide comfort during the winter with minimal energy use. Rain noise is reduced by the roof’s geometry and the use of laminated glass in double-glazed units.
It was paramount that the space was acoustically treated because the school is also home to a Hearing Impairment Unit. This has been achieved with the inclusion of acoustic panels wrapping round on the balustrade and concealed behind the larch batten feature walls.
As a consequence the market square has space to support individual study and reflection, group discussions and role playing and a classroom for traditional teacher-led activities as well as housing whole school assembly. The design encourages experimentation from the staff, students, parents and community.
The design of the market square has made this central space the heart of the school, providing great flexibility. During the recent snow, it functioned as an internal play area, enabling the school to stay open. Combined with the assembly hall, it creates a big enough space for whole school assemblies and it is used as a performance space too – the history department has staged the Battle of Hastings there! According to staff, it has an excellent atmosphere and helps create a culture of engagement.
Architect: Scott Brownrigg; structural engineer, m&e consultant: WSP Group; qs: Carillion; planning supervisor: Scott Brownrigg Planning; lighting consultant: Halsion; main contractor: Carillion Building; client: London Borough of Lambeth; photos: David Barbour (marketplace), Clive Sherlock (exterior).
Selected subcontractors and suppliers
Cladding: Marley Eternit; building envelope, glazing: System Aluminium; structural steel: Bourne Steel; roof and facades: Topek; sky lights: Skylight Solutions; demolition/asbestos: Syd Bishop; groundworks & RC frame: Knight Build; carpentry: GF Barrett; balustrades: PAD Contracts; m&e subcontractor: Halsion; partitions and dry lining: Advanced Interior; wc cubicles: TBS Fabrications; raised floors: Raised Floor Solutions; floor finishes: ACS Flooring; timber flooring: Pica Flooring; lab furniture: IAB LAB; painting & decorations: Dennington; lifts: Kone’ fencing (permanent): Littlewood Fencing; soft landscaping: Deacon Landscapes; screeding: Robert E Lee; natural ventilation: Gilberts; folding partitions: London Wall Group; doors: Leaderflush; ironmongery: Wolsely; lightwells: Firezone; roller shutter: Syston Rolling Shutters; window blinds: Kensington Blinds; brickwork: Moss Barrett.
ATH35/April 2010 p20