School House

After-school club for St Elizabeth RC Primary School, Bethnal Green, London

‘‘[The resulting structure is] a delightful distillation of the practical needs of the school, grounded in the place, and elevated by a playful architectural ambition to bring added value, far over the constraints of the budget and brief. If this is the future of school building, we have every reason to be optimistic …”

Oliver Wainwright, Building Design, 3rd December 2010

This School House forms part of St Elizabeth’s vision to soften its environment and reinforce a strong sense of community. Located near one entrance, to be easily and discretely used from inside and out by both school and community, the School House stands alone. It’s primarily an after-school club, but also used as a parents’ room, staff training room and occasional classroom. A big sliding door opens the hermetic form to the playground, dissolving the boundary between indoor and outdoor play. Inside a mezzanine play space and other facilities, formed like a pile of toy building blocks, are located below a huge north-facing roof light.

The building is like both a real house and a drawn house pictured by a child, drawn and conceived as being literally turned inside out, so the floor is on the outside and the sky lines the inside.

Basic off-the-shelf wood products and the simplest building techniques kept the cost down to £250,000 by making it buildable using standard carpentry skills throughout. Considerable care was nevertheless required to turn the most modest materials into the most surprising of structures: by the engineer as it is both structurally innovative and very complex – the structural solution answered the architect’s promise to the client to create, very cheaply, a simple indoor learning / play space unencumbered by adulthood. This included no visible means of internal support and none of the external trappings, such as gutters, normally found on a building.

And not least by the painters and decorators who, by sanding, filling and rubbing in white emulsion, made the cheapest shuttering ply lining the interior glisten like animal hide.

As architects, we firstly drew the building out of the clients’ imaginations, detailed out grown-up distractions and unnecessary embellishment and finally we actually drew on the building, decorating the central island with meandering scribbles of everyday dreaming.

Service: Architects
Location: Bethnal Green, London
Client: St Elizabeth RC Primary School
Cost: £250k
Areas: 144m2, landscape and playgrounds 2500 m2
Dates: Completed August 2010

Awards

Highly Commended 2011 BCSE Awards – Excellence in Design for Teaching & Learning: Primary School Refurbishment and Renewal

Publications

Building Design, 3 December 2010

To Live In   To Learn In   To Work In   To Play In