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Playing to existing strengths

The new sixth-form centre at an inner-city London school has been designed to complement the 1960s style of the original buildings

Posted by Dave Higgitt | January 05, 2015 | Bricks & mortar

Stoke Newington School is a successful inner-city school in London with a specialism in media, arts and science. In 2011, Jestico + Whiles was appointed by the school to create a new dedicated sixth-form centre on site to deal with growing student numbers at sixth-form level. The practice had previous experience of working with the school, having redeveloped the entire building as part of the building schools for the future (BSF) programme in 2010.

The reason for the extension was the school’s need for more space to cater for a rise in sixth-form students from 140 to 300 pupils since BSF completion. The solution was a two-storey, L-shaped building of approximately 600 sqm that abuts the school boundary to the north, maximising the available space to form a small courtyard between the new building and the existing school, and responding to similar courtyards used in the original 1967 brutalist building design. Additionally, the new building connects to the existing school at both ground- and first-floor levels, benefiting from the use of the existing stair, lift and WCs – meaning the new building was able to avoid the associated costs of the additional lift, fire stair and WCs that would otherwise have been required.

The new sixth-form centre connects to the northern end of the existing school and is partly located in the shadow of the adjacent three-storey building. It was therefore important that the design maximise the amount of natural daylight within the new building. The strategy was to incorporate most of the glazing in the south, east and west façades that overlook the new sixth-form courtyard to the west and the reconfigured external space to the east. Roof lights above the ground-floor offices and WCs and first-floor study area provide additional natural daylight to the northern parts of the building where there are few windows, preventing overlooking issues with the neighbours on Sattar Mews.

The shape of the new sixth-form building echoes that of the existing brutalist school structure. The orthogonal-shaped volume branches out of the building as a new wing in keeping with the plan form of the original school where individual wings form courtyards. The proposed massing respects the existing buildings’ architectural language and does not attempt to compete with the bold form of the boiler house nearby. The striking boiler house is one of the most admired elements of the original school design and the design treatment of the new sixth-form building is deliberately deferential to it, picking up on the proportions of its windows among other things.

Headteacher Annie Gammon said: “The sixth-form block has provided a high-quality space which is both beautiful and functional. It is contributing hugely to the success of our sixth form and our aim of achieving excellence for all students. The study areas are very well used before, during and after school.”

As with the entrance building completed in 2010, the new sixth-form centre draws its inspiration from the material choices of the existing building, but makes use of contemporary materials which sit comfortably alongside the bold brutalist architecture of the original school. Given the proximity of the entrance building, it was also important that the material palette chosen for the sixth-form building sat well with the modern additions so that all three elements read coherently alongside one another.

A dark grey rainscreen cladding solution was selected because it followed the language set by the new entrance building (Corten rainscreen panels) and didn’t compete with the masonry and bush-hammered concrete of the original building. The cladding system is made up of fibre cement boards, an appropriate material that enables the new sixth-form building to ‘speak for itself’ and neither mimic the robust masonry and concrete ‘brutality’ of the original 1967 building nor undermine the powerful language established by the Corten extension. The Corten bay windows on the north elevation provide a subtle link between the two buildings and their architectural language.

Flashes of bold yellow are used on the window reveals and soffits in order to enliven an otherwise dark façade. These are in keeping with the colour used on the 2010 entrance building, which in turn was designed to reference the yellow used on the theatre of the existing school building.

As with the junction between new and old to the 2010 Corten steel entrance building, the junction with the original school abutting the sixth-form centre is made via a full-height glazed link. This link allows natural light to penetrate deep into the common room from each side whilst simultaneously forming a clear and expressed separation between new and old.

Due to the constrained nature of a site located directly behind the existing boiler house, the construction of the new sixth-form centre was not a simple task and the design had to respond to several challenges. There was limited access into the site for materials, with crane use prevented by the height of the boiler house and its associated chimney and the narrow public highway Sattar Mews to the north. The size and nature of the materials selected therefore had to be given increased consideration, with one notable example being the in-situ concrete stairs which were used in lieu of pre-cast concrete, as the latter couldn’t have been craned in.

The sixth-form centre building may only just have been completed, but it has already become a lively and indispensable resource for the campus and wider school community.

Project data

Contract value: £1.4m
Contract type: design and build
Area (GIA): 589 sqm (excluding 110 sqm refurbishment of previous sixth-form area in existing building)
Client: Stoke Newington School & Sixth Form
Local authority: London Borough of Hackney
Architect and lead consultant: Jestico + Whiles
Structural engineer: Price & Myers
Services engineer: Max Fordham (pre-stage E)
Services engineer: Blackmoor Knight (post-stage E)
Acoustic engineer: Max Fordham Acoustics
Employer’s agent: Appleyards
Cost consultant: Appleyards
CDM co-ordinator: Appleyards

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