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The 4 Cs of design

New primary school Godmanchester Bridge Academy is fitting in to stand out

Posted by Hannah Vickers | August 08, 2017 | Facilities & buildings

A new development is underway on the outskirts of Godmanchester, an idyllic town and civil parish within the Huntingdonshire district of Cambridgeshire, England.

Woods Hardwick Architects, together with Kier Construction, were appointed by Cambridgeshire County Council in 2014 to design a new primary school located on Bearscroft Farm. The development brief comprises a new, 420 place two-form entry primary school with an adjacent nursery which will be constructed on a central site.  

Despite design restrictions and site constraints, Woods Hardwick was able to propose a building that is fit for purpose and will benefit the students as well as the wider community - Mark Newstead, project architect

The project’s architect Mark Newstead explains: “When designing Godmanchester Bridge Academy, all parties involved always had to keep the 4 Cs in mind – Community, Connectivity, Character and Climate. Despite design restrictions and site constraints, Woods Hardwick was able to propose a building that is fit for purpose and will benefit the students as well as the wider community.”

Community

Situated within a much larger development encompassing 750 residential properties, the well-equipped purpose built education establishment is set to become a focal point of the community. As such, its purpose extends to serve as a venue for after school local clubs as well as an adult learning programme. Keeping the mixed-use in mind, key design characteristics have been identified.

As part of the initial design process, the Cambridgeshire City Council Education team made valuable contributions and comments which have been taken on board and incorporated into the final design. This has resulted in the most efficient use of space with the end-users at the heart and mitigated against wasted and unusable space.

For example, a combined main hall/small hall suite adjacent to the kitchen and food tech room allows for dining as well as community use. The preschool building is designed as a standalone building which the opportunity of being operated as a completely separate facility with a potentially different end-user. The grouping of the Information and Communication Technology classroom, library and group areas create an open plan ‘activity space’ within the heart of the school which can be constantly used, avoiding under-utilised corridor space.

Connectivity 

The Bearscroft Farm development is a highly functional project that aims to serve the wider context of Godmanchester and beyond. Connectivity is important in order to be able to provide a mix of uses, including educational facilities and community use, as well as infrastructure, amenities and landscaped areas.

To provide connectivity, the school has been designed to be accessible to all. At the outset, this was an issue because of the considerable level differences across the site: an approximate 6.5m rise from the North-Western corner up to the South-Eastern corner. Significant ground remodelling has been undertaken to ensure compliance with Building Regulation Approved Document Part M requirements for access. 

The school design is a direct response to the topography of the overall site, turning a potential constraint into an opportunity - Mark Newstead

The County Council Education team requested that the school building be level across its entire floorplan with no internal ramps. As a result, the site was regraded in order to form three terraces; the top terrace will have the grassed sports pitches, the second will have the formal hard surfaced games courts and the building will sit at the lowest terrace set around informal play courts. “The school design is a direct response to the topography of the overall site, turning a potential constraint into an opportunity”, says Mark.

The theme of connectivity continues inside the school with the classrooms set out to follow a ‘path of learning’ from preschool to reception, KS1 to KS2. The adjacency of the classrooms allow them to work in both 1 and 2 form entry mode with a shared cloakroom and WC block between every two classrooms. A designated exit provides access to the external play/learning spaces. 

Character 

To meet the design brief, the school has to fit in with the overall design of the Bearscroft Farm development. The appearance of the school is bound by the scale and mass of the neighbouring structures and must sit neatly within the surrounding context and environment while also enhancing it.

Mark continues: “The design code document, prepared and issued as part of the Reserved Matters application, established that the school design has to reflect certain elements of the adjacent housing development. This includes building orientation, colours, textures and material selection. To some extent, this can already be achieved through the scale and mass of the proposed commercial buildings proposed to the north of the school which together form a central hub. By nature of their form and function, the building units and elements are generally larger to that of the residential houses, bringing instant hierarchy to the school.”

The architecture around the play courts to the front of the classrooms is much more playful. The school facades are predominately glazed to allow as much natural daylight as possible to increase the well-being of staff and pupils - Mark Newstead

Beyond the northern brick boundary wall, the architecture around the play courts to the front of the classrooms is much more playful. The school facades are predominately glazed to allow as much natural daylight as possible to increase the well-being of staff and pupils. This is further enhanced by rooflights. The glazed façade is broken up by random coloured glass strips, the coloured glass can be viewed from the inside and matches a colour spectrum of feature walls and door colours which changes according to the path of learning. The resulting environment stimulates the senses and provides interest.

Climate 

An intensive sedum roof will be added to the teaching wing of the school, which gives the impression that the playing field continues over the school, rendering the wing almost invisible when viewed from the southern border. This offers a sustainable response to the site constraints, as the green roof in addition to the high levels of insulation delivers a greater thermal performance, preventing heat loss during winter. The combination of plant and soil processes help to reduce the amount of solar energy absorbed by the roof membrane leading to cooler temperatures beneath the surface during summertime. 

As the majority of time is spent inside the classrooms, the internal climate was also taken into consideration. North facing glazing provides uniform light exposure and reduces solar gains and glare. Natural shading is provided by trees, which will be located in the playground and keep the classroom temperature moderate. Pupils also benefit from natural ventilation throughout the building which is important in regards to minimising the exposure to air pollutants and CO². There is also a Photovoltaic (PV) array on the roof which will generate free electricity. 

The design of the school has been a collaborative effort from the start - Mark Newstead

Mark adds: “The design of the school has been a collaborative effort from the start. Early advice from the Cambridgeshire County Education team, as well as the experience from Kier’s design team and the future executive head teacher, were invaluable. Since mid-2014, monthly meetings were carried out to ensure that the pupils always remained at the heart of the project, while not forgetting the school’s importance to the wider context.” 

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