Two types of cladding panels from Marley Eternit have helped a national school move from a “grand institutional” building that Queen Victoria once claimed outclassed some of her palaces, to an equally iconic but modern college.

Some 1,200m² of fibre cement Natura panels in Anthracite colour dominate the main school building at Donaldson’s College - Scotland’s national school for deaf and speech impaired children - while the same amount of Lamina External high-pressure laminate panels in Summer Apple wood grain appear to sculpt a residential building out of wood.

The complex shape of the building – with around 48 separate elevations – and the setting out of the panels which were secret-fixed, meant the year-long contract was a particularly challenging one for specialist cladding installer Lakesmere for main contractor Sir Robert McAlpine.

Home for Donaldson’s College is now in Linlithgow, while the old, Grade A listed building in Edinburgh, which was designed by William Playfair and had been a hospital as well as home to the college for 70 years, is being redeveloped into apartments and houses.

Set in three hectares of brownfield land that used to house a factory, the new facilities include a gym, swimming pool, fitness, dining and life skills rooms, library, assembly hall and art studio. Customised auditory technology is equipped throughout and all classrooms feature state-of- the-art sound systems and interactive whiteboards.

Adopting a “charette” process by working closely with staff, pupils and governors, JM Architects’ concept was to develop a 5,000m2 school building for up to 90 nursery, primary and secondary pupils and 100 staff, set beside a 1,000m2 residential block for around 30 boarders.

Constructed traditionally using elements of steel frame, blockwork walls and in-situ ground slabs, precast upper floors, and timber- and metal-deck single ply membrane roofs, the school’s design had to sympathise with the site’s belts of protected mature trees.

The fibre-cement Natura rainscreen panels dominate the facade of the main building and complement metal cassette panels and facing brick. The Lamina Externals panels wholly clad the residential block.

JM Architects, who have used Marley Eternit products before, said: “The brief was to provide a modern design solution, moving away from the ‘grand institutional’ style and feel of the old college.

“Local planners were keen to see an iconic modern building on the site and the materials have contributed to this appearance which the client considered a prerequisite requirement for moving from their previous building.

“The design intent required simple, hardwearing products for the exterior which would be easy to maintain. The Anthracite colour was selected to give a neutral background to offset featured highlights on the school building. In contrast, the wood veneer was specified for the residential building where the design concept saw the building sculptured out of a block of wood.

“Both the Natura and Lamina products interact well with the aluminium systems used for windows and screens, along with localised feature areas in metal cassette panels. The cladding was a key element in achieving the exterior design intent, both in form appearance and colour, and so are key elements of the finished form of both buildings.”

Cladding installer Lakesmere said: “The Marley Eternit rainscreen with undercut anchor system is a high class product. Given the complex shape of this building and the complex setting out, this made the project about as challenging as it can get from a cladding point of view.

“Special mention must be given to J Danskin & Co, the panel fabricator, who cut the boards to size and positioned the holes for the undercut anchors. This was not easy and they did well.”

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