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full story
Case Study
Case Study
www.teachingtimes.com
Intelligent
design delivers
educational
transformation
www.teachingtimes.com
Astudio has reimagined both schools as state-of-theart learning spaces.
Case Study 1: De La Salle
The vision for De La Salle School – a voluntary-aided
mixed Catholic comprehensive school for 11-16 yearolds – included most of the key elements demanded
of new school buildings. It called for flexible spaces
suitable for individual and group-based learning;
some form of focal point that would give coherence
to the existing buildings; and rooms (particularly the
language laboratories) that could be used by the
wider community, thereby requiring clearly defined
visitor and pupil entrances.
Creative ICT provision
However, one of its most significant requirements
was also one of the least visible: ICT solutions that
would support teaching across the site, providing a
new digitalised learning experience. The school was
keen to stress that ICT equipment and infrastructure
needed to be available throughout all areas.
ICT adoption was already quite advanced in the
school, with administration based around the SIMS
management information system and widespread
use of Assessment Manager and Lesson Monitor.
That said, much of the teaching accommodation was
in need of an ICT revolution to enable 21st century,
innovative teaching and learning using mobile digital
technology, allowing anytime anywhere access.
There was a requirement for a network suitable
for both these curricular needs and administrative
functions, as well as greater incorporation of more
specialist software.
The school will become one of the first in Essex
to be supported by Apple hardware and software.
Each student will receive a mobile device to allow
instant and constant access to the school’s ICT
Sean Weston describes two
remodelling case studies which show
how inspired design can overcome
budget limitations.
O
ne of the effects of the Building Schools for the Future
(BSF) programme was to raise the aspirations of school
communities for their buildings; but how to meet these
with a cash-limited public sector budget, when remodelling
existing sites is usually more viable than the development of new
facilities? Two school projects in Essex, designed by architect Astudio
and just started on site, show what can be achieved.
The Essex challenge
The wave of new schools under BSF demonstrated the direct link
between intelligent design and educational transformation. The benefits
of such features as flexible teaching spaces, double-height spaces and
wider circulation routes became well established. At the same time,
more stringent access, energy and ICT requirements were making many
existing buildings obsolete, and while levels of capital funding have
fallen, the understanding among schools of the importance of these
benefits has not.
At De La Salle School and Language College in north-east Basildon,
Astudio has managed to integrate these features into a campus of
six 1960s buildings in varying states of repair and accessibility. At
Shorefields New Model Special School in Clacton-on-Sea, the architect
has performed a similar trick, but with the added constraints of
working within a historic building and incorporating the technological
requirements of modern special educational needs (SEN) teaching. This
case study will examine how, through a combination of refurbishment,
remodelling and new build, and for a combined overall budget of £17m,
44 Learning Spaces Volume 1:3
Volume 1:3 Learning Spaces 45
Case Study
Case Study
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north-facing rooflights. In a clever touch, further light
is provided by high-level colour-glazed slots – a nod
to the iconography of stained-glass windows.
The street also provides a more coherent
organisational basis for the school’s facilities. At its
eastern end, under an impressive new canopy, lies
the pupils’ entrance and new student services centre,
while at the western end is the new community
entrance. All the areas for out-of-hours use branch
directly off this circulation spine, making them
easily containable. The additional community area is
positioned above the visitors’ entrance at first-floor
level, and cantilevers out, providing cover and added
prominence to this public access point.
Design flexibility
The new D&T block is also placed next to this
entrance, giving a public profile to these state-of-theart facilities. The key to the design of this block and
the other new-build elements is flexibility. The frame
structure allows internal partitions to be removed,
and the specification of dado trunking throughout
allows the ICT infrastructure to be simply modified.
Another vital role played by the street is it acts as
the school’s social and cultural core. At the eastern
end, the new dining area spills sociably into the
central space, while at the other end, the proximity
of the art block offers the possibility of this well-lit
space doubling as an exhibition area. But perhaps
most important are the visual links created between
the street and the first-floor Learning Resources
Centre (LRC), the other element that forms the ‘heart’
of the school.
was split-level and the two general teaching blocks
were on two storeys, with no lifts. Coupled with the
fact that many of the classrooms were poorly heated
and ventilated, it was clear that a comprehensive
overhaul was needed.
Astudio’s response
systems. Clever and innovative integration between
the Building Management System (BMS) and hand
held technology will give pupils the experience of
understanding energy use within the school. This
will enable them to change behaviour to be green
and reduce costs. It will also expose them to an
opportunity to learn about intelligent building design
an area of worldwide expertise shortage.
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Radical requirements
In terms of more specific upgrades, the brief from
the school included:
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additional maths and English bases, to support
learning through smaller class sizes
46 Learning Spaces Volume 1:3
a new-build block to integrate design and
technology (D&T) with art, thereby raising the
profile of cutting-edge technologies such as
CAD/CAM
a new learning resource centre (LRC)
a larger dining area
new PE changing facilities
an additional community area
and, slightly less tangibly, an overall emphasis on
spirituality, reflecting the school’s Catholic ethos.
The most fundamental change regarded access. Of
the six existing flat-roofed blocks, only the sports hall
and recently refurbished science labs were compliant
with Part M of the Building Regulations. The main hall
The internal street
The key to Astudio’s design is the insertion of a new
building that forms a double-height ‘internal street’
running east to west. This connects the hall and
administration blocks at the front of the school to
the general teaching blocks behind, as well as linking
directly to the other new-build elements, such as the
D&T block and the LRC.
Despite having to work within the constraints of
the existing blocks, Astudio’s street serves a myriad
of purposes. First, it improves circulation, both
horizontally, between the blocks at ground or first
floor level, and vertically, via two internal lifts that
link on both levels to the general teaching blocks.
The street’s function as the main circulation route
is also served by the fact that it is generously lit by
The Learning Resources Centre
The LRC is an important new-build element in its
own right, but, as with the street, a lot of the strength
of its design lies in the way it relates to the existing
buildings. It acts as the first-floor connection between
the two general teaching blocks, thereby further
improving the school’s circulation. Its position
between the maths and English facilities also
provides valuable break-out areas for smaller group
and individual e-learning, using resources such as
mobile hand held devices.
Linking old and new
The new-build element comprises 2,060m2, and its
simple massing as a street and adjacent blocks lends
itself to bold external finishes in striking contrast
to the brickwork and aluminium curtain walling of
the existing blocks. At the western end, the D&T
block uses a distinctive rendered façade and the
cantilevered community room is clad in translucent
polycarbonate panels, through which light glows
in the evenings. Meanwhile, at the other end of the
street, the LRC and student entrance use glazed
Volume 1:3 Learning Spaces 47
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Case Study
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curtain walling, a simple way of showcasing the
learning that goes on within.
The new buildings may stand out architecturally,
but the key to this development is the links, rather
than the differences, between new and existing.
This extends to the heating and ventilation strategy,
which uses a building management system and
windcatcher-type natural ventilation terminals in the
new building to serve all classrooms within the school
– just one of the many examples of how the new at
De La Salle has helped to revive the old.
Case Study 2: Shorefields
At Shorefields New Model Special School, judged
by OFSTED as Outstanding, Astudio has faced many
of the same challenges as at De La Salle – from
improving circulation to making classrooms more
flexible – but with the additional complication that
this is a building of local historical interest. This
meant firstly that major interventions in the original
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Use of light
The link buildings have a
deliberately contemporary design,
with glazed facades and ribbons of
coloured glass. There are several
reasons for this:
fabric had to be kept to a minimum, but also that
the building had an institutional feel out of step with
modern SEN teaching environments.
Preserving and transforming – the remodelling
challenge
The school buildings were built in 1912, originally as
a residential sanatorium, and comprise a two-storey
crescent-shaped block and a smaller two-storey
rectangular block behind. Some good new services
have been recently introduced by the school,
including a sports hall and a library, but the general
effect of piecemeal additions over the course of a
century is a building with a sense of congestion and
a lack of accessibility. Despite the fact that the school
caters for a number of physically impaired pupils,
there is only one passenger and one platform lift,
and insufficient space in which to add to these. On
top of this, the upper floor of the smaller block has a
number of levels, making it inaccessible to wheelchair
users. Corridors are narrow, with nowhere designed
to store mobility aids, which means they can block
circulation routes.
Another area for development was the size and
arrangement of class bases. Some bases in the
existing school were as small as 42m2, which restricts
teachers’ ability to take a multidisciplinary approach
– using different technology and aids to help children
with very different needs. The school has previously
organised children according to their needs, but it
wanted to change this to a rite-of-passage approach,
with a lower school, a middle school and a college
offering life skills training.
The other major challenge facing Astudio and the
school was to rid the building of its institutional air,
which is reinforced by the Edwardian architectural
language of brown bricks, small windows and high
sills. A SEN environment needs to be friendly and
stimulating for pupils, welcoming and reassuring
to parents, and outward-facing in order to foster
community interaction.
Astudio’s response
Creative bookends
Astudio has designed two new-build elements that
act as bookends linking the original blocks. These
will provide two new, larger lifts, wider circulation
spaces between the blocks, storage for mobility aids
and, crucially, more class bases with a minimum size
of 55m2. This allows for more technology-based
learning and means that the school layout can be
reconfigured so that each class has an adjacent
transition space and WC/hygiene facilities. The
reconfiguration will make it easier for children with
different needs to be taught in the same area, thereby
enabling pupils to be organised in their own age
groups. The buildings will also have a timber-framed
structure so, if needs change, internal partitions can
be altered.
48 Learning Spaces Volume 1:3
the use of glazing creates links
between internal and external
spaces, making full use of the
school’s well established
landscaped areas (which are also
being further improved as part
of the project). The flow between
inside and outside extends to the
provision of six outdoor learning
areas, directly accessible from
classrooms
the glass and bright colours break up the building’s
institutional air. The glass is also a critical factor in
the new, welcoming and light-filled entrance to the
east wing and adjacent parents’ room
the coloured panels help to delineate the two
wings’ discrete roles: one is for the nursery and
lower school, the other is for the college and
café. This also highlights the new rite-of-passage
organisational structure
the location of the café and nursery behind the
glazed facades emphasises the school as a place
of social interaction with the community.
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Within the existing buildings, circulation areas will be
enhanced by lowering window sills and introducing
coloured and tactile finishes, thereby improving
way-finding and creating a stimulating sensory
environment. In the smaller rectangular block, two
new stair risers will provide access to the upper floors,
which in turn have been remodelled to remove the
differences in level.
Clever design to meet 21st century
needs
Both of Astudio’s current Essex schools projects
demonstrate how some of the most eye-catching
and ambitious features of the new schools built over
the past five years can be integrated successfully into
existing sites. The colourful, modern ‘bookends’ at
Shorefields and the lively, coherent internal street
at De La Salle are both clever, targeted interventions,
the effects of which spread far beyond their own
footprints. These projects show how elements of
new-build can have a truly transformative effect on
seemingly obsolete educational buildings, creating
cutting-edge, sustainable schools fit for the 21st
century.
Sean Weston is Project Director at Astudio.
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