Tuesday 10 September 2013

Working with Schools

With increased demand for school places there is growing pressure to extend existing school buildings.  Often solutions involve several subject areas sharing one class room, or standardised class room units in the playground.  This might not be the most satisfactory solution.  A standardised class room will not make the best working environment for every subject.  Annexed buildings can feel isolated from the main school premises and play ground space is a very valuable resource, especially in inner-city schools.  At Furzedown Primary School, DesignBox Architecture worked through these issues to create a purpose designed Art studio, fully integrated with the workings of the existing building, without loss to the playground facilities.

A problem of insufficient teaching space
Furzedown Primary School is a very friendly community school in Wandsworth, London SW17.  It looks small despite it being a two-form school and it has been gradually expanding since the addition of a large extension in the 1990’s.  As the school grew, space became tight and the original Art studio was unavoidably taken as a form-room.  Initial discussions between the School and the Council for a new Art studio pointed towards a prefabricated building situated in the playground.  This was not ideal because playground space is very valuable to the children and this solution would have left Art lessons disconnected and separate from the main school premises.  In addition, a standard prefabricated classroom would not necessarily make the best space for teaching Art.

A Vision for the School
The school had higher aspirations, and with this challenge to find a new home for the Art department, efforts focused on how the existing school building might cleverly support a new addition.  The existing school buildings are arranged around a central courtyard with the form-rooms opening out on to the perimeter playground areas, at ground level.  Areas linking to or sitting over the existing building were investigated to see if they would work as a potential site.  Head Teacher Ms. Monica Kitchlew-Wilson identified a flat-roofed area over the south-east wing of the school which became the home of the new Art department, called the Art Box.

The Art Box
Budgets were very tight, but the school had lots of enthusiasm and high ambitions to create something special, and something to be proud of.  The emphasis of the design concentrated on the quality of space and light.  

  • The roof lantern works to bring lots of diffused natural North-light in to the teaching space.  It has black-out blinds so the class room can be darkened for the projector and white-board.   The lighting was designed to give good light distribution across the space.  Spot lights add to the lighting flexibility with their ability to illuminate work on walls or add contrast to artistic subjects.  
  • As much wall space as possible is provided for pinning up work.  This is helped by the use of under floor heating to eliminate wall mounted radiators.  The corner windows also help to create large areas of wall display space without compromising quality of light.  The additional height of the roof lantern helps to make the teaching space look more spacious and open.  
  • The teaching space is much larger than previous rooms used for Art and it has all storage and washing facilities directly connected to the main studio space. 

Building over the existing premises enabled the new Art Box to be fully integrated in to the life and operation of the school.  The existing ground floor corridor links to the new development with a stairwell set in to a remodeled store room.  An adjacent platform lift also allows wheelchair users to access the upper floor.

Because of the tight budgets, the external face of the new building has a simple render.  We added the signage saying 'artbox' to identify the new addition to the school.  It is a playful reference to the Bauhaus Dessau.  Using the same font but lower case, it signifies a small building for small people (children) but with big ideas!

The construction of the Art Box
At the time of the Art Box construction, the school was celebrating its centenary.  It was important to ensure that the Art Box would look neat, purposeful and make a confident addition to the school, without too much disruption to the existing premises.    

The construction site was difficult to access.  Deliveries could not be made with anything larger than a transit van.  The only vehicle that could access the site was fork-lift, so the poor construction crew had to labour without a crane. 

Although the build was programmed to make best use of the school holidays, some construction still had to take place during term time.  To ensure disruption to the working school was kept to a minimum, as many building components as possible were prefabricated off-site.

  • External walls and roof were made from structural insulated panels (SIPs)
  • Internal walls were made as prefabricated timber cassettes 
  • Windows were delivered as fully finished and glazed assemblies, including the glass-to-glass corner units

The use of prefabricated components reduced the number of site processes required to construct the building and the extent to which materials had to be cut on site.  This greatly helped to reduce the level of disruption to the school.

Our Architectural Practice
The feedback from the teachers and children on the addition of the Art Box has been incredibly positive.  The space is a real hit with everyone and the amount of Art work being produced is phenomenal.  Encouraged by this enthusiasm, it has become a key aim of our design practice to specialise in similar types of projects:  To 'add value' to school buildings and create fun and enjoyable working spaces for children and teachers.  For small to medium sized school extensions and refurbishments, time and consideration needs to be given to ensure that proposals compliment the school and provide the best working environments possible.  This can be difficult to achieve, especially with tight budgets but we feel it is an essential consideration for any school.  We are currently working on new school projects, and look forward to our next challenges.

In her letter to parents, Head Teacher Ms Monica Kitchlew-Wilson wrote:
'It was sensitively designed by Phil Wells, one of our parents, who spent a very long time really finding out what would work best for us. He has delivered a beautiful purpose built block that all of the children (and staff) enjoying using. Thanks to Phil, we are extremely grateful.'
School website home page Autumn Term 2012

Additional posts:
For our article on classroom refurbishment, see 10 Ways to Revitalise Your Classroom

For notes on the feasibility of extending upwards, over existing buildings see our post Up on the Roof 

For additional notes on the design of the Art Box, see our post Art Box Design

For more information on DesignBox Architecture, please see our website

Website:  www.DgnBx.com
Email:  enquiries@DgnBx.com

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