Concrete Elegance: Education Buildings


Speakers: Nic Crawley, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris and Charles Thomson, Rivington Street Studios

Nic Crawley, Alford Hall Monaghan and Morris will talk about Westminster Academy, a new secondary school in West London.

The Westminster Academy building which accommodates 1175 pupils and 128 staff received the RIBA Sorrell Foundation Schools Award in 2008. It embodies an engaging, flexible environment which provides students with a place where they take individual responsibility for their education and encourages team working by both staff and pupils. The bold stratified façade of green and yellow terracotta tiles and the insitu concrete finishes provides a dramatic new landmark in the community.

The project at the Academy reflects recent trends to make use of schools as community service centres outside classroom hours. The conversion of free space under a nearby motorway into sports fields has provided a sports centre of benefit to the entire community, whilst providing a solution to complex problems often caused by elevated motorways in cities. At the same time, the incorporation of a public path connecting two sides of the motorway and the train tracks links one of the poorest neighbourhoods in London with Westminster, one of the wealthiest.

Charles Thomson, Rivington St Studio will talk about York St John University, York

The scheme is a mix of building shapes and styles, where the wavy brick wing with its medieval overtones has been spliced into the modern oblong block with its protruding gable ends. Not least there is the profusion of ancient and modern material: handmade bricks, natural timber boarding, tropical hardwood panels, painted render, fibre-cement panels in charcoal grey and vivid orange, and even fairfaced concrete. The building is concrete frame construction with the fairfaced concrete used internally and externally. The construction provides thermal mass and allows internal room heights to be maximised. The structural strategy is linked to an environmental strategy incorporating chilled beams under floor central heating and natural ventilation. A green roof provides local bio diversity and contributes to building insulation and water management.

The detailing is neat, robust and apparently durable, in spite of being carried out through a design-and-build contract. All the windows, for instance, are set in slender frames with no fussy dividing bars or mullions. This was achieved by drawing natural ventilation through adjoining obscure shutters. The dynamic sculptural forms, unexpected juxtapositions of shapes, materials and vivid colours all bristle with youthful verve and energy. Just the thing for a university campus.

Concrete Elegance is hosted by David Bennett and is produced by the Concrete Centre in association with The Building Centre.