Designing for dignity

Thursday 25 Feb 2010

Marks Barfield completes special needs school that becomes first BSF project to open in London on time and on budget

The Michael Tippett School was the first BSF project in London to open. The school specialises in teaching 11 to 18-year-old students with profound and multiple learning disabilities.

Sustainability was central to the brief. The form of the building is determined by the section through the classrooms which maximises natural light and ventilation, with concrete soffits to maximise thermal mass. The school has a sedum roof providing insulation to keep energy bills down, minimising rain runoff, and a habitat for plants and small wildlife which also serves as a visual educational tool for pupils. To provide flexibility, the external walls and internal partitions have been disengaged from the structural frame so that they can be changed in future to suit the school’s changing needs and pupil intake.

The enhancement of the learning environment for pupils, teachers and the general community was integral to the design. A simple and clear building layout and circulation strategy was key to the design, and contributes significantly to a calm and easy to use learning environment. The design team developed effective approaches to wayfinding throughout the school, such as different door colours in different zones of the school. The staff report that this has significantly improved the day to day experience of the students.

The architects worked extremely closely with the school and its input was invaluable. Visits were made with the teachers to similar schools to gain an understanding of their aspirations and to broaden their idea of what was possible. The ethos of the school is to help pupils prepare for the outside world, rather than to protect them and the school was keen to retain the strong link with the local community they had enjoyed in their previous premises. Therefore, the school was designed to engage with its surroundings, creating a welcoming presence on Heron Road that reflects its personality and ethos.

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