Nov 17, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Wings of desire: Innovative architecture at Kent primary school

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Goat Lees Primary School located in Ashford, Kent is a pioneering example of a modern school, enhancing the surrounding area with its innovative architecture, and delivering an optimal learning environment due to teacher-led design.


Designed by multi-disciplinary architectural, property and construction practice Pellings LLP, the £2.75m BREEAM Very Good, One Form Entry Primary School, was built for Kent County Council.

The area surrounding the school has seen significant new residential development in the last decade, and a contemporary school was urgently required to cater for local children and to provide an architectural focal point. The provision of shared space for general community use was also an important prerequisite, and this was intelligently worked into the overall design.

Before detailed designs were prepared, an in-depth consultation was undertaken with seven Head Teachers to inform the design of the project and achieve an optimal learning model. This process ensured teacher-led design, and helped deliver end user satisfaction.

The seven Head Teachers identified good natural light, good air quality/natural ventilation, flexible teaching facilities, free movement throughout the school and links with outside space, as key elements that should be incorporated into the school’s overall design. This saw the architectural team utilise a variety of creative construction methods to deliver the project.

For example, the school is divided into two wings, and its spacious entrance hall is connected via an informal glazed link to the teaching space. It acts as a bridge between the administration and teaching space with inspiring garden spaces on either side, leading to a communal learning hub, with entry to each of the seven classrooms.

The layout of the school is also specially designed to separate the entrance hall from the teaching facilities, which means the hall can be let out as a venue for community clubs and events outside school hours.

Sarah Jones, the architect at Pellings who was in charge of the project explains that strong links with the outdoors were created with inventive design. “Every classroom has instant outdoor access to its own all-weather teaching space, while the crescent shape of the classroom block gives each room extensive views over the playing field. Outdoor landscaping includes a library garden, vegetable garden and spaces where individual groups can gather together which encourages a range of flexible learning activities,” Jones commented.

Flexible facility

A number of interesting materials and approaches have been used to meet the requirements set out by the consultation process. Cross laminated timber (CLT) fast-tracked the construction process, which was important as the school had to be completed within 10 months ready for the autumn term.

The CLT also provides greater flexibility for the school’s internal layout, as walls and partitions can be adjusted relatively easily if teaching requirements change in the future. In addition, the CLT frame with structural members is purposely exposed in the hall and library to educate children about building methods and sustainable resources.

Importance has been placed on the school having as much natural light as possible. “We made a 3D miniature model prior to construction for a “sun study”, so light levels could be understood and natural light maximised to ensure an ideal learning environment. This led to the hall’s roof being specially designed to curve upwards towards the sky in a sculpted form, while high and low level glazing is utilised to maximise natural light. Additionally sun pipes and roof lights are installed throughout for this purpose,” Jones explains.

A decorative frieze of diffused glazing also assists in providing privacy to the formal north elevation whilst enhancing the school’s identity. This glazing also serves to counteract glare and maximise solar gain in the library.

A natural ventilation system comprises CO2 and temperature sensors, which enable vents to open and close automatically, creating an environment that facilitates concentration and learning for pupils. A green roof increases insulation, and photo-voltaic panels provide energy.

Emphasis has been placed on delivering an exciting design that will bring distinctiveness to an area formerly lacking in character, bringing diversity and elegance that breaks the monotony of a typical residential vernacular surrounding the school. “We selected a mix of cedar cladding, brickwork and aluminium curtain walling, which work together to both contrast and complement the surrounding architecture,” says Jones.

Cost-effective maintenance

The playground, community centre and car park have been positioned adjacent to the northern boundary, which separates the school buildings from a major traffic route thereby reducing the effects of noise and pollution. In addition, the school’s location in the heart of the local residential community eases traffic congestion and costs.

Significant attention has also been paid to promoting the long term performance of the building with regard to functionality for a range of uses and a robust cost-effective maintenance programme is incorporated at all stages of the project. The school’s green roof will provide long term environmental and ecological benefits.

Low carbon technology, including passive stack ventilation is contained in the school’s design. IT and internet access provisions are future proofed, discrete functional security systems are integrated into the building’s design, while data points in each classroom are also ready to incorporate future technology.

Post occupancy feedback shows that there are high levels of satisfaction with the school from the teachers, who believe that that the consultation process ensured they were listened to. The school’s head teacher is impressed with the school’s innovative design, but believes it is one that also remains practical and incorporates “little features” that teachers desire.

Teaching spaces are designed to be versatile, with electric plugs and data points positioned in multiple locations, providing the opportunity to configure the teaching environment in different ways. The predominance of internal open spaces encourages free but secure access to the school, with no need for security swipe cards. A master key system for teachers means the school can be secured effortlessly without the need for multiple keys.

Throughout, the school spaces are provided for small working groups, both inside and outside. Open spaces and wide corridors help children move freely and securely around the school with confidence. Feedback from teachers also states that natural light, air quality and links with the outdoors have worked to create a feeling of calm among the children.

End user satisfaction is also demonstrated by the fact that the school is full in lower years, which already have a waiting list. It has become the heart of the local community and its design has helped achieve that. Before the school’s construction parents from the nearby housing were sending their children to various different schools located further away. Local parents and children now know each other because of the school.

In addition, before and after-school childcare means parents can continue full-time working. The hall’s availability outside school hours is also a considerable asset for local people and provides a valuable revenue raising opportunity for the school.

Work on Goat Lees School was completed in August 2013, ready for the autumn term, following a 10 month contract. Pellings LLP was the architect on the project, WW Martin was the contractor, Curtins Consulting was the engineer and the quantity surveyor was Academy Consulting Solutions.

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