Four Dwellings Primary School
Learning in the round
In 2009, we were selected to design a much-needed replacement building for Four Dwellings Primary School as part of Birmingham City Council’s Building Schools for the Future and Primary Capital Programme framework.
Cost Consultant Lend Lease
Structural Engineer Nolan Associates
Services Engineer Hulley & Kirkwood
Acoustics Consultant Adrian James Acoustics
Landscape Architect Plincke
In spite of its out-dated post-war accommodation, the school was notable for hands-on, project-based education.
So, we worked with the senior management to develop a design that supported personalised, kinaesthetic learning.
Our solution was a ‘pinwheel’ design that allows the child to progress around the building from reception to year 4 at ground level and years 5 and 6 on the first floor.
Designing the school from the inside out, we focused on the typical day of the student. We were determined to extend learning through internal, informal learning zones to the outdoors.
At the heart of the scheme is an inner central hall where the whole school can assemble. Extending outwards are a variety of different learning environments, beginning with social breakout spaces, then clustered classrooms where year groups can interconnect. The classrooms open to the outdoors via canopied learning spaces, before ultimately extending to external play spaces that are specific to each year group. A series of coloured toilet pods give identity to the individual year groups. This design provides the maximum variety of learning spaces, inside and out, while ensuring that classroom sizes are not compromised.
Close collaboration with the Senior Management team helped inform the exploration of a school 'in the round'. Explorative workshops with the project artist, designers and pupils found references in the surrounding nature to inform the colour strategy for the school.
The building’s superstructure is a timber SIPS system with glu-lam portal frames to achieve the larger spans of the main school hall. Offsite fabrication allowed for ease of erection and reduced the construction programme on site. The ground floor façade is predominantly wrapped in glass to maximise natural light and ventilation with recycled glass aggregate blocks. Cedar cladding to the upper floor gives expression to the timber construction of the school.
We were steadfast in ensuring that the focus on learning was maintained throughout the project, from planning concept to material specification and final details such as the selection of colourways and furniture.
In addition to the immediate pedagogical requirements, Birmingham City Council placed high value on the potential for schools to bring wider benefits: as a resource and point of pride to foster broader community cohesion and as a resource for adult education to extend learning to all ages. With its transformational and much-admired design, Four Dwellings has gone a good way to achieving that.
The building is full of simple touches that make a big difference.