A playful plywood super-structure and two turrets housing an inventive new STEM lab in a listed primary school.
Perched at the top of this Queen-Anne style, locally-listed primary school, a new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) Lab by Hayhurst & Co Architects for Torriano Primary School provides a new, dynamic, hands-on learning space for children. Already a hit with pupils and staff, the project has been awarded a RIBA Regional Award in recognition of its outstanding design.
An existing two-storey ‘turret’ in the south-east corner of the building has been remodeled to house the inventive new lab. Opening up the existing second and third floor rooms to form one tall space, naturally lit by a large skylight above, has transformed the space. The interior takes the form of a series of laminated plywood portals that act as learning apparatus: a framework that allows items to be dropped from, draped over, threaded through, clamped to or projected onto it. Constellations are etched into the faces of the timber and the form of the portals helps re-define the double-height teaching space and provide a cathedral-like scale to a small, rediscovered part of the school.
The adaptable space has been carefully designed to allow for flexible use, with an emphasis on allowing a variety of spaces to carry out practical experiments. Fold-down demonstration desks can be used for small groups or lifted-up to form a large clear space for experiments. Floor projection IT equipment allows for pupils to feature inside their presentation: a form of interactive and inclusive learning. The space also features a black-out area for light-based experiments and a mezzanine to enable students to gain additional height to undertake practical experiments.
To the rear of the room, a super-sized timber-framed, glazed door provides access to a small, south-facing roof terrace allowing learning experiences to be taken outside. Here, an external living wall and cactus planter enables pupils to become involved in the care of plants, teaching them about biodiversity and natural habitats, while internal planters teach about differing climatic habitats, aid in reducing air polluting gasses and increase biophilic well-being.
Outside, mirror-polished stainless steel shingle tiles extension give the façade of the small roof-top extension a fairy tale like appearance – a shining beacon sitting a top the school. The mirror tiles reference the clay tiles and lead-clad dormers of the existing building, while playfully reflecting the greenery and the environment around the school.
The project is the result of a successful collaboration between Hayhurst & Co, teachers and pupils. Artist in Residence, Jack Cornell, worked with Hayhurst & Co to help them test, draw and model activities that the pupils might want to undertake in the space, which originally inspired the idea of the plywood superstructure.
This small but incredibly high-impact space was completed in August 2018 on a very tight budget, and was made possible thanks to an enlightened use of Section 106 funding by Camden Council. What could easily have been spent on paving and potholes has instead been invested in an outstanding piece of education infrastructure.
With 420 pupils located on a tight school site and a limited budget, re-using an existing space – previously a series of small rooms used for storage accessed via a steep, rickety staircase - was paramount. Providing the best low-technology solutions possible was also important: ventilation created by the natural stack-effect allows good air-movement and avoids stuffy teaching spaces; and low energy lighting is present throughout. As part of the project, the loft space and the roof pitches in the existing building were insulated and a new thermal envelope was created for the extension, meeting Camden Council’s sustainability criteria and exceeding building regulations requirements.
The project brings into use disused and inaccessible spaces within the existing building, maximising additional learning space for the school within the capacity of the existing building, with a minimal extension. The existing poorly insulated space was heavily insulated, creating an efficient thermal envelope for the new lab. The new extension maximises natural daylighting into the spaces with a large skylight the full width of the extension and south-facing glazed doors opening out onto the terrace. All new light fittings to the space use low-energy LEDs. The large doors and opening high-level windows allow natural stack ventilation throughout the space.
Images: Kilian O'Sullivan