Jan 22, 2019 Last Updated 4:27 PM, Jan 21, 2019

Academy design gives inspired learning

Published in Product Innovation
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Spires Academy is a two- and three-storey building that caters for 600 students aged 11-16 (4FE), with Business & Enterprise, and Visual, Creative & Performing Arts as the specialisms. The academy is sponsored by Kent County Council and co-sponsored by two companies: Crown Products and Holiday Extras, both of which are local companies with extensive links in the community.

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The Academy’s vision is for all children, whatever their ability and background, to have the opportunity to enhance their life chances through an excellent school education. Both sponsors support the Canterbury 4 Business initiative and see the Academy being central to regeneration of the local area through the development of a strong local knowledge-based economy. Spires Academy has been operating as an Academy since September 2007 in the buildings of the former Montgomery School.

The building design is two and three storeys, which ensures that the new building has the least impact on the setting and neighbouring residents, but also strongly preferred educationally. The building has a radial diagram, which came from early discussions about the preferred nature of the school. The school’s desire for a central space, or heart, which symbolises the coming together of the school community, was established from the outset. The layout allows access to each Learning Area from this central space which itself functions as the assembly hall and cafe/dining area.

The Academy is approached from the main entrance to the site for vehicles and pedestrians from Bredlands Lane. There is a single main entrance to the Academy building, which is accessed off the new pedestrian plaza at the end of the vehicular and pedestrian approach. Coach drop off is curbside on the pedestrian approach to ensure that students arriving in the school buses egress without crossing the car park area. There are also a number of parent drop-off bays. Car parking for staff and visitors is off to the right.

Visitors and students enter the building at the same location through a double-height glazed screen, which creates a prominent entrance. Visitors are received on the left-hand-side where a reception desk and soft bench allow them to wait to be met in a secure area, whilst students can proceed into the Academy through double sets of doors. The reception connects directly back to the administration office behind.

Kawneer’s AA 110 and AA 100 (sloped) curtain walling were used on the main entrance and corridors of the predominantly naturally-ventilated Spires Academy. These systems, with 65mm and 50mm sightlines respectively, are complemented by AA 541 casement windows with both manual and automatic top-hung ventilators and by series 190 heavy-duty commercial entrance doors and AA 605 low/medium-duty swing doors. The windows and entrance doors were designed where necessary to Secured by Design standards.

Central gathering

The Kawneer systems were installed by approved specialist sub-contractor APiC UK for main contractor Carillion PLC to a design by architects Jestico + Whiles.

Upon entering the Academy through the main entrance one immediately enters the Heart space, which forms the central gathering and assembly place of the school. This space is used for assembly, performance, exhibition, informal dining, meetings etc. From this space, four learning wings can be accessed containing: Enterprise (ground floor), Art and Music (first floor), Science (second floor), Maths (ground floor), English (first floor) and Humanities (second floor), Sports (ground floor) and Performing Arts (first floor) and finally Support and Guidance. Each learning area is accessed from this central heart, and not through each other. There is direct access to the external curriculum courtyards from the heart space.

Integrated masterplan

The form of the building and organisation internally are designed to be simple and cognitive. Externally the materials are intended to create a landmark, but are also sympathetic to the rural context while providing robust and durable finishes appropriate for use. The materials include: grey architectural blockwork at low level; coloured insulated acrylic render to the first and second floors (dark grey and bold green), aluminium windows and curtain walling. The simplicity of the building diagram – two interlocking forms – is reflected in the architectural composition, with each of the primary components expressed with their own identity in terms of colour selection.

The colour palette simply expresses the two interlocking forms by mirroring the dark grey and green, with the continuous lighter grey blockwork band uniting the ground floor plane. Each of the principal pieces in the composition are separated by extents of curtain walling. Window frames are powder-coated aluminium in a dark grey colour.

An integrated masterplan and landscape proposal has been formed as part of the overall strategy for the new building. The architectural proposals place the Academy building at the centre of the site where the building works to divide the external area between the front of Academy which includes the welcome plaza, cycle parking and disabled parking spaces and the rear of the Academy which includes informal social areas, sports facilities and spaces for external learning.

The structure of the building also works to further define the exterior areas with the wings marking out open courtyards on four sides of the structure. The courtyards form the basis of the Academy’s relationship to the landscape, with external space flowing out from these courtyards, which also provide a variety of opportunities for formal and informal learning as well as for socialising.

To the front of the site is parental drop off, car parking and a bus set down area. Informal soft and hard spaces act in conjunction with the entrance plaza. The central band, which bisects the site from east to west, provides a structure to the site, which fits the topography. While the southern band is on the upper level and provides sports pitches and habitat areas.

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