Sarah Wigglesworth Architects’ extension for Mellor Primary School provides a series of exciting and stimulating new spaces based on the school’s ‘forest school’ ethos. The low energy building aims to harmonize with its natural setting, using locally sourced natural materials while featuring a striking habitat wall which was designed and built in partnership with the school’s pupils.
Mellor Primary School is a popular and successful academy in the Cheshire village of Mellor, close to the Peak District national park. As pupil numbers have grown, Sarah Wigglesworth Architects were commissioned to design an extension to the existing school building, which was originally built in 1995. The extension allows the school to expand to single form entry, and is an innovative and sustainable building containing an additional classroom, SEN room and library, an extended hall, new WCs, a welly and outdoor equipment store, plus other facilities. The existing building has also been partially remodelled to provide better offices, and improved connections between the community space and teaching areas.
The school believes that learning through the outdoor environment is key to helping children build resilience, resourcefulness and an ability to work together
Sarah Wigglesworth Architects worked closely with the school community during the design development phase. Meetings were held with staff, parents and governors, and feedback from the Mellor Pupil Parliament also informed design decisions.
Links to the surrounding landscape are fundamental to the design. The school believes that learning through the outdoor environment is key to helping children build resilience, resourcefulness and an ability to work together. This philosophy is embedded in their Forest School programme, and aims to encourage a love for the environment while developing skills and knowledge. New internal and external spaces support this pedagogy – such as covered external deck areas which can be used as outdoor classroom space as well as for informal play.
The extension is in effect a ‘tree house’: a cluster of pitched roof forms set on a deck extending out into the landscape. The dominant material is timber: a robust, low energy and sustainable material that reflects the school’s Forest School activities and allows the expanded building to sit comfortably in its Green Belt setting. Tree-like glulam frames support not only the deck but also the roofs internally and canopies externally, making a visual connection between internal and external spaces. The new classroom and library enjoy views into the surrounding tree canopy.
A key external feature is a habitat wall. This is a thickened wall on the east elevation, and is built as a framework for accommodating different types of biodiverse habitats: birds, insects, small animals and plants. It takes the form of timber compartments which are filled with a wide variety of recycled and found materials, as well as areas for planting, bird boxes and bat boxes. Pupils were invited to develop their own concept drawings for how the wall might appear and, during construction, worked alongside teachers, parents, the local community and the Sarah Wigglesworth Architects team to fill its spaces.