Aug 20, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Architects AHR completes a healthy learning environment

Published in Education
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Hylton Castle Primary School in Sunderland has recently been completed by AHR and is now welcoming its first cohort of students. The school is the first to be delivered through the privately financed PF2 element of the Education Funding Agency’s (EFA) Priority School Building Programme (PSBP).


The school is part of the £150m North East batch programme of six primary and six secondary schools. AHR has designed a new typology that allows elements of standardisation across the batch and in turn provides both cost and time efficiencies for the EFA.

Common structural and environmental systems are employed in all the buildings to allow the ‘Standardised Block Typologies’ to be configured in a variety of ways to suit each individual school. The emerging designs therefore relate to each specific site context as well as each school’s unique design brief. This approach not only ensures the design solution is tailored to the needs of each individual school, but means the buildings could easily be reconfigured in the future as educational requirements change.

Tony Langan, Director at AHR, said: “We’ve worked to develop a flexible and efficient ‘kit of parts’ for these schools by creating standardised typologies. This reduces costs and build time but also results in high-quality, adaptable learning environments that can be tailored to each school’s specific requirements. The suite of spaces we’ve managed to create support both the children’s formal curriculum and informal social activities.”

Hylton Castle Primary School is designed to provide the best possible environment for learning. Thermal mass principles of heating and cooling, natural and controlled ventilation systems and roof glazing for natural day lighting all work together to create a healthy, light and airy environment. In classrooms, users have a level of control over each individual space, reinforcing the sense of comfort in the building. This control is intuitive and able to respond to the different seasons whilst maintaining optimum environmental conditions that stimulate learning.

Day-to-day flexibility

Within the school, all internal walls are non-load bearing, ensuring ease of expansion and reconfiguration. Hylton Castle, as with the other primary schools under construction, is a two storey building with key stages divided by floor. Early Years pupils are located in a single storey building with natural light provided by roof lights in order to keep the elevation free for play overhangs, furniture and equipment.

Day-to-day flexibility is also designed into the hall, drama and dining spaces so they can be quickly reconfigured to provide a rich variety of social and learning environments. These spaces can also be securely zoned off during the day to provide a useful resource for community activities and larger scale events. The classrooms are treated as grouped pods based around a repetitive configuration.

Easy navigation

Pupils are aged between 3 and 11 and so it was crucial to ensure the site is safe, and students can navigate the building easily. Void spaces at first floor level connect the different parts of the building and create natural way finding in a visually stimulating way. Two standardised toilet configurations for infants and juniors are also cleverly designed to give the children ease of access from both inside and outside, a solution also applied to the ‘Early Years’ cloakrooms, allowing parents to access these spaces when dropping off or collecting their children.

The school’s civic frontage includes easily identifiable entrances for staff, visitors and pupils located along a central spine. It is an uplifting space with strategically located double height voids that create voluminous spaces filled with natural light. Walkways link the central spine to the external play areas with glazed doors, framing views of the external play spaces to ensure a continual connection with the external environment.

The school’s grounds provide important facilities for outdoor learning and social activities. The design for Hylton Castle uses the site’s natural topography to create an attractive yet efficient layout, optimised building orientation and enhanced public/private zoning and security.

Elaine Armstrong, Head Teacher of Hylton Castle Primary School, said: “From the initial planning stages the path to completion has taken us almost four years; it has been a smooth journey and I believe the key elements to its success have been highly effective communication systems and strong partnerships with members of the EFA and the design team.

“During the planning stages the team were keen to understand our vision and priorities for our school. This has proved to be invaluable since we now have a school that is purpose-built to meet the needs of our pupils and also the wider school community. At each key point key staff have been consulted, our opinions have been listened to and agreements reached.

“For pupils, I am so looking forward to seeing how much this new building will impact on their self-esteem, motivation and sense of value. Our school is situated in an area of high unemployment and many children have huge barriers to overcome before they can fully access the curriculum. We have no doubt that the transition into this new building will raise standards in all aspects of learning across the school. The new facilities have provided staff with the opportunity to provide an even better quality of teaching and they are welcoming the challenge with a growing confidence.”

Simple expansion

The substantial adaptability means Hylton Castle, and the other schools in the batch, can flex easily for minor changes as well as adapting in more radical ways to support new teaching models in the future. The structural system allows for simple expansion of the number of classrooms, corridors and staircases. The lightweight, non-load bearing internal partitions can be easily removed, opening up the spaces for larger groups, and acoustic panels can be reconfigured to support different uses of the spaces. Mechanical and electrical services and heating and ventilation systems have been selected for ease of reconfiguration and flexibility. The scheme is designed to deliver great teaching environments, ease of use and maintenance and adaptability, now, and for the next 60 years.

The 11 remaining schools, which will be based on the same principles, are all set to be delivered on time before September 2016.

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