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Kingsdale School, London, United Kingdom

Friday 09 Sep 2011

Clever design ups performance

Kingsdale School by dRMM Architects in London, United Kingdom
Kingsdale School by dRMM Architects in London, United Kingdom Kingsdale School by dRMM Architects in London, United Kingdom Kingsdale School by dRMM Architects in London, United Kingdom Kingsdale School by dRMM Architects in London, United Kingdom Kingsdale School by dRMM Architects in London, United Kingdom Kingsdale School by dRMM Architects in London, United Kingdom
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Demand for places has soared since dRMM's design transformed failing comprehensive 

The Architecture Foundation initiative 'SchoolWorks' asked how school buildings relate to behaviour, morale and learning standards, and Kingsdale, a failing comprehensive, offered itself as a site for experiment.

Architects dRMM's decision not to replace, but to radically recycle, transformed the campus of this school. The building re-design and parallel changes in management created fundamental and sustainable improvements to education and academic performance, evident in the Department for Education table (see figure 6).

Kingsdale boasts several consultation, design and construction innovations, carried out over a number of phases up to 2008. The 1960s building was strategically edited and redefined by superimposing the world's largest variable-skin ETFE roof. The resultant space is naturally lit, heated, cooled and ventilated, and houses dining, circulation and an engineered timber geodesic auditorium, the new heart of the building. This social, film and performance pod features an integrated services sculpture by Atelier Van Lieshout.

"The architects are almost perfect partners for this project - creative and flexible enough to produce the high quality work that was asked for. We asked for a plane, they produced Concorde," says Steve Morrison, head teacher at Kingsdale. The completion date for this phase was May 2004.

The success of the first phase led to a secondary phase for the sports and music buildings which pioneered the use of carbon negative, cross-laminated timber panel construction. The sports halls are a necessarily functional single volume, large and high, as defined by strict sport guidelines. The design challenge was to turn a generic box into expressive architecture that offered maximum daylight and flexibility within, whilst adhering to the strict programme and budget constraints.

For the music school, dRMM adhered to the criteria of angular form whilst exploiting the possibilities of computer-aided fabrication to establish beautiful forms and inspirational spaces from flat-packed timber. The sculptural roof geometry, together with inventive cladding details, creates simultaneously large and small internal / external scales. The completion date for this second phase was January 2007.

Kingsdale School features in Tom Dyckhoff's series on Channel 4, The Secret Life of Buildings.
The series explores the impact that the design of buildings can have on us and showed Kingsdale as an example of how good architecture, along with a progressive design team, can turn an underachieving school into an outstanding one.


Kingsdale School was designed by Leslie Martin for the GLA in 1959. It was originally designed as a community school which formed part of a new educational campus, with the adjacent Langbourne primary school serving a socially diverse community of council housing estates and private suburban homes.

By the 1970s, Kingsdale had become part of a social engineering experiment to bring students from deprived inner city neighbourhoods to the relative calm of the leafy suburbs. Over time, rather than a beacon of social integration and opportunity, Kingsdale became a failure.

dRMM developed design proposals that sought to re-energise the school through radical transformation of the built environment, after winning a competition initiated by the Architecture Foundation. The effects of the transformation on the school community was profound: the oppressive atmosphere dissipated and a new era dawned.

Academic results support the apparent change in pupils' behaviour. Their behaviour is often exemplary in class, lessons are attended punctually and once in the classroom, pupils study hard (as shown in recent Ofsted Reports).

Truancy has disappeared and staff turnover is down. Bullying is rare and morale has gone up. The school has become desirable and with it, the demand for places is increasing. The social engineering experiment is over and Kingsdale has become a community school once more.

dRMM Architects

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