Print this page

Enhancing user experience

Published in Upfront
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Now in its 30th year of practice, Architype is synonymous with honest and sustainable design. Most noted for its contributions to the Passivhaus movement in the UK, this pioneering practice is continuing to develop a robust palette of alternative and healthy materials for its future-led energy efficient buildings.


The late Walter Segal, an iconic leader of self-build principles for modern societies in the 1980s and a work colleague to Architype’s founding directors was heavily influential to a young Architype. His values of striped back design, simple to construct, erected from sustainably sourced and reused materials were some of the primary ideas to influence the practice; key beliefs still present in its approach today.

Consistent dedication

The practice’s passion for materiality is best seen in the design and build of one of its own offices, Twyford Barn in Hereford. Constructed from the ruins of a dilapidated farm building on Duchy land, this bespoke response to an office space is a true testament to the practice’s dedication to alternative materials.

A building that draws a close relationship to the landscape and architectural history of the area, Twyford Barn demonstrates Architype’s detailed and sustainable consideration of materials and finishes. From the extensive use of sweet chestnut sourced from a woodland visible from the site, to wood wool soundboards and recycled tyre flooring; Twyford Barn is a precedent for Architype’s broader implementation of material specification.

One of Architype’s key focuses addresses the comfort and wellbeing of users. Their designs not only provide beautiful and functional spaces, but buildings that are fresh and uplifting to be in, supporting positive mentality and good physical health. This approach is best witnessed across the extensive and award-winning school projects undertaken by the practice in recent years.

Since delivering St. Luke’s as the UK’s first BREEAM Excellent primary school, Architype’s continuous drive to progress has led to its successful delivery of the UK’s first Passivhaus schools, Oakmeadow, Bushbury Hill and most recently, Wilkinson Primary School in Wolverhampton.

Architype recognises the importance of the school building as the primary platform for nurturing pupil potential. Applying its experience and knowledge in consultation, design and materiality, the practice has improved the happiness and wellbeing of school users and enhancing early learning experiences.

The physical and psychological benefits enjoyed by users are implemented two fold; firstly through sustainable design that offers a natural source of comfort through light and air, and secondly through the meticulous material specification, which forms the aesthetics whilst providing a healthy internal environment free from potentially harmful synthetic and toxic finishes.

Proficient design

Although not adopting a house style, Architype’s ethos ‘to design uplifting, genuinely sustainable architecture’ is profound within its approach. Eco-minimalism; elegantly simple, highly functional and focused on delivering the essentials, Architype is adept at designing for what really matters. It is through this genuine commitment to deliver low energy and sustainable buildings that they have successfully achieved the Passivhaus standard. As Architype’s first certified Passivhaus school, Oakmeadow Primary has seen improved learning patterns in their pupils since its completion in October 2011.

The headteacher has since remarked: “The comfort factor is there, the air quality in the teaching spaces makes a big difference and the pupils respond better. Pupils are more alert in the afternoon; they are more attentive because the air is so fresh and comfortable. The daylight quality is just fantastic.”

Opting for natural systems to control the interior comfort levels requires less reliance on high technological equipment and high maintenance solutions. Within a Passivhaus building, heat generated naturally from solar gain, its inhabitants and equipment is sufficient to provide comfortable internal conditions avoiding over heated classrooms with stagnant air, known to cause fatigue and a breeding ground for germs. This benefit is immediately noticeable when walking around any of Architype’s school projects, which are fresh and odourless a result of well ventilated spaces finished with non-toxic, organic and user friendly materials.

Window positioning, a large design factor to be considered within the calculation workbook, Passivhaus planning package (PHPP), plays a vital role in providing appropriate levels of solar gain as well as natural daylight. Architype’s schools adopt a simple single section that is extruded along the length of the school. The building sections allow for strategic positioning of windows, to improve the level and quality of daylight entering the learning spaces. Improved natural light conditions that eliminate glare offers optimal visual conditions and reduces common problems of headaches amongst the pupils.

Adopting and incorporating Passivhaus is not the only principal consideration for Architype when creating a healthy and sustainable place for learning. From the inside out, their material palette is consistent with the practice’s ethos to design uplifting genuinely sustainable architecture.

Timber is favoured, a dominant material used widely from structure to exterior facades and interior finishes. Chosen for its low embodied carbon properties and simple manufacturing processes, timber framed buildings have less environmental impact than man-made material alternatives, such as steel. Combined with Architype’s waste-free attitude to design, components are specified to standard sizes and simplified details avoiding production of excess waste during construction. Designing out waste on Holy Trinity Primary School expansion project, in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, Architype worked closely with WRAP UK to improve their overall resource efficiency alongside the recycled content within their material specification. Recycled rubber tyre barrier matting was opted for, whilst offering high levels of durability, the product reuses waste otherwise destined for landfill.

Outdoor influence

Adopting a cross-laminated timber solution, Holy Trinity Primary School is a key example of the capabilities and versatility of this sustainable material. From timber frame to exterior cladding, Architype’s preferred natural palette also brings commercial benefits of a time and cost effective dry construction method.

Visually, the natural mix of material, colour and texture aims to subtly introduce the outdoor landscape into the building, a common requirement in many school design briefs. Enhanced by the circulation of fresh air, the prominent smell of wood is fresh and pleasing, opposing expected odours of synthetic plastics and paint. Eco-friendly wool-wool acoustic soundboards made from timber by-products help to keep sound localised within large open plan spaces. Especially suitable for a school environment where it’s as important to have fun and make noise as it is to have quiet time and concentration.

From floor to ceiling Architype has developed solutions that consistently complement and enhance the user experience and wellbeing. Resisting common beliefs that synthetic options are more durable for school specifications, Architype has successfully introduced alternative products into mainstream education, particularly in the instance of interior finishes. The use of natural linoleum has provided an ecological option for floors. Made from a mix of cork and linseed oil with a hessian backing, this hard wearing product has offered practicality and clean surfaces to schools such as in Staunton-on-Wye Endowed Primary School in Herefordshire. More recently sustainable rubbers have been utilised for their improved high performance environmental standards and toxicological safe credentials.

Making use of low-grade softwoods, Bishop Hooper Primary incorporates a striking ‘hit and miss’ ceiling, accentuating the natural aesthetic whilst improving the acoustic quality of the learning spaces.

Architype defies the perception that good quality design and a robust material specification significantly increase project capital costs. The practice avoids over embellished architectural features and alternatively opts to focus on functionality; creating simple solutions that work. Avoiding complexity in design and consequent cost implications, its design solutions provide financial flexibility to accommodate a healthier, robust and high quality finish that brings delight to its users.

Refined approach

Developing an understanding of the positive aspects that have helped create delight in St.Luke’s, Architype has continued to refine its approach by constantly resolving and reworking their design intent.

Ironically, achieving simplicity in design is much harder to achieve than adding complexity, and Architype’s genuine commitment to deliver elegant simplicity and functionality in its design is a true testament of the efforts to improve the user experience and bridge the performance gap so common within the construction industry.

Similarly, the firm’s success at acquiring TSB (Technology Strategy Board) funding, has recently seen the completion of two Building Performance Evaluation studies undertaken over a two year period at its inner city school extension Bessemer Grange in Southwark and rural 1 form entry primary school in Staunton-on-Wye, Herefordshire. Critical of their own work, their findings are significantly contributing to the TSB’s efforts to report of best practice in achieving optimum building performance and user satisfaction.

Their Passivhaus School, Oakmeadow Primary has recorded a 90% decrease in their first year gas bill compared to their previous school accommodation. The year-on-year savings are now being re-invested in learning equipment and resource for the children. Producing buildings with high quality materials and achieving super low energy standards within set project budgets, Architype designed schools offer ongoing financial flexibility, healthy learning environments and an enhanced experience by placing emphasis on what truly matters – the users.

Login to post comments