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Connected at every level

Penoyre & Prasad's three-storey Ark Brunel Academy building links the floors vertically as well as horizontally

Posted by Stephanie Broad | April 22, 2016 | Facilities & buildings

On a tight urban site in Kensal Town where space is at a premium, Penoyre & Prasad has completed an unusual three storey primary school. Most primary schools would think they need a single storey building to facilitate easy access to the playground and good communication between the different age groups. Penoyre & Prasad’s innovative three-storey design for Ark Brunel Academy provides equally good interconnectedness by flipping the standard model onto its side and linking the floors vertically as well as horizontally.    

By designing a three storey building, Penoyre & Prasad was able to free up space for the three residential schemes which help fund the redevelopment of the school.

The primary school and the residential blocks create a courtyard which shelter the large outdoor play areas from the school’s busy urban surroundings as well as providing a larger, lighter, brighter school with improved facilities.  

The three vertical Learning Clusters are the key to the design, as they provide inter-connectivity through the core of the building. The Active Learning areas in the centre of the Clusters – over 65m2 in area at each level - are stacked on top of one another, linking through carefully positioned voids and staircases.

Inside Ark Brunel Academy

A tartan grid of voids, reversed on first and second floors, brings light and interest into the shared, central active learning spaces, creating intimacy within each learning cluster and making connections between them. The Learning Clusters encompass two pairs of year group classes, a group room, group niche and active learning space which are located at the heart of the school with vertical connections to each playground at either end.  

Gillian Horn, Penoyre & Prasad Project Director, said: “Our challenge was to make three stories an asset for the school, giving something you can’t get in a single story building. We did this by making strong vertical and horizontal connections, creating glimpses up through the inter connecting voids to give a sense of places beyond and a progression through the school, growing up and moving through the building. Using structural timber brings texture and warmth. The circulation is designed as active learning space so there are no corridors in the school and each floor has a different feel.”

The dining hall at Ark Brunel Academy

Headteacher, Dominic Smith, explains why the school is so successful. “Penoyre & Prasad-led innovations such as the active learning spaces, work fantastically well for 21st century teaching,” he said. “The finished school is warm, welcoming and natural. Features such as the design of the windows give each room its own character and personality. Equally, elements such as the sweeping main staircase, cathedral-like hall and bright Learning Resource Centre and terrace are simply beautiful.” 

The new 2,997m2 Primary Academy is the generator for a larger mixed-use scheme that includes 42 new homes and two new commercial units on the site of the former Middle Row School in Kensal Town. The siting of the new scheme also repairs the local urban environment and creates intimate and protected play spaces for the school within the centre of the block.

The school provides two forms of entry for 420 pupils including a 30 place nursery and a specialist Speech and Language Centre for 16 pupils. The ground floor is for nursery, reception and year one, with years two, three and four on the second level. Years five and six are on the third storey, which also features an art room and a learning resource centre which opens onto a covered outdoor classroom and roof garden.

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