In the final days of the BSF program and with a vastly reduced budget, this project brings transformational change to the school by delivering two new buildings and outdoor spaces, whilst renovating the existing library and classrooms.
A key requirement for the project was to create a new identity for the school transforming its image into a welcoming, dynamic learning environment, raising the school’s profile within the borough and supporting the aspirations of pupils and staff. The new buildings improve the school’s civic presence and inclusiveness with adult evening classes and community groups using the library and Saturday morning school for a wider population.
The existing school site is dominated by an eight-storey tower. Although this provides generous teaching spaces, it is isolated from its surroundings with the rest of the school arranged in poor quality single storey structures. The new masterplan for the school creates a robust ‘campus’ structure of buildings and different scaled outdoors spaces that integrates the retained and refurbished buildings with the new ones. The current areas of outdoor play are maintained but further expansion of the school facilities through densification can be accommodated.
One of the ambitions is to improve learning and community provision as well as enhancing the local streetscape. The two new buildings, a new teaching block and a sports hall, are at key locations on the school boundary. New entrances and generous glazing of the activity studios and classrooms brings much needed school activity to the surrounding streets, Trafalgar Gardens and the Ocean Estate. This also improves the safety of the surrounding streets by providing passive surveillance and brings new and accessible amenities to local people the first time.
The reception, art and technology building creates a new main school entrance and forms a sequence of spaces that open up school life to the community whilst reducing the impact of the tower. A triple height communal stair, a new sheltered courtyard, and IT pavilion are part of a diagonal sequence of spaces used to create strong visual connections across the school campus and to emphasis the extent of improvements and the school’s ICT specialism to the wider community.
The sports hall has been designed to be accessible to the local community from Trafalgar Park. It supports the school’s sporting success with Sports England compliant amenities; 4-court gym, activity studio, and multi-gym. In order to maintain the existing areas of outdoor play an additional rooftop multi-use games area has been provided, transforming the sports curriculum.
The broad open stair of the reception, art and technology building is complemented by break out spaces at each floor, for individual and small group work outside of the formal teaching spaces of the classroom. The structural solution avoids structure in partition walls between classrooms, enabling the maximum future flexibility and accommodating further variety in learning strategies. The structural solution also includes a rooftop beam that not only screens the plant room from view, but also frees up the lower levels from additional structure in the deep span of the building.
The sensitive setting with adjacent conservation area is complimented by a contemporary architectural approach that mediates between the surrounding context and reduces the negative impact of the existing austere school environment. The buildings open up with large openings capturing views of the adjacent farm, conservation area and vicarage, and the City of London. Their appearance is also a response to the need to cover large buildings within the very limited budget constraints by bringing a soft, textured surface of light and shadow, and a new consistency to the school campus.
The key challenge for Stepney Green was to maintain the delivery of the school curriculum with the BSF budget cuts and the tight construction sequencing. The cuts meant that there is no extraneous space in the new buildings yet they still meet the educational brief for transformational change. The compact form of the buildings meant that they could be erected whilst existing buildings were still in use.
As a result the project came in on budget and 20 weeks early. Innovation on site included using plywood protection to allow refurbishment to proceed before demolition was complete and using metal shuttering to build the concrete frame without scaffolding which made huge inroads on the tight programme.