Nationally significant educational project
The Kingsdale School transformation is a groundbreaking educational project to reinvigorate a failing institution, recognised by central government as a unique model of national relevance.
Structural Engineer Michael Hadi Associates
M&E Engineer Fulcrum Consulting
CDM Coordinator Appleyard & Trew
Main Contractor Galliford Try
Constructed in the 1940s, Kingsdale School developed a reputation for poor performance in the 1990s. By the turn of the century it was under special measures and in need of a radical overhaul.
Kingsdale School grew out of an Architecture Foundation initiative to re-appraise education architecture and to investigate the correlation between academic environments and academic performance. A government funded initiative called SchoolWorks was formed, to set new standards for educational architecture.
Kingsdale’s inspirational head teacher, Steve Morrison, shared SchoolWorks’ belief that pupils and teachers needed to have a say in the design. Our original involvement came when we won a competition to carry out a six month-long consultation to bring pupils and teachers into the design process.
Thanks to the success of this process of active participation, we were able to help the school unlock much more funding under the Building Schools for the Future programme. And we created additional savings through a phased and focused building programme that kept the school open during construction and stretched the available budget to achieve maximum impact for the school.
The design provides a model for retrofitting an existing building, exploiting the existing 1960s structure with strategic interventions that combine the clever use of space with innovative building materials.
First, we removed the central hall and superimposed a huge, translucent, asymmetric geodesic dome. This hi-tech roof, comprised of inflatable plastic cushions and developed in collaboration with Vector Foiltec, created a spectacular new space that provided a 1,200-student assembly area; a multi-purpose area that improved circulation and provided space for dining; exhibitions; and social space; with a cinema and a performing arts auditorium at its heart. The roof had the dual advantage of trapping warmth from the sun and extracting stale air from classrooms, and its dappled light adds magic to the space.
Other innovative design solutions included the egg-shaped auditorium, the geodesic grid shell for which was created from Scottish larch poles, then clad in birch plywood. And we commissioned Atelier van Lieshout to provide ‘useful art’ in the shape of internal ventilation services that resemble large-scale sculptures.
Kingsdale School was dRMM’s seminal education project, developed in close collaboration with the Head Teacher, senior management, school & local community. The transformation was made up of 33 individual projects, with the school in occupation throughout. Leslie Martin’s 1947 school was the perfect building for adaption. Stripped back to its light weight steel frame we had the ability to re- structure the entire school organisational principles around open departmental hubs, improved connections and visually open teaching spaces within which to implement a new pedagogy.
Insight: Philip Marsh
The school's transformation was more than academic or environmental as it also transformed attitudes.
At the start of the process the local residents were the school’s greatest adversaries. Through a continuous series of monthly meetings their views were tempered, shifting from hostility to understanding, culminating ultimately in absolute support for the project verbally and within the planning process.
We are immensely proud of the refurbishment of Kingsdale School, not just in terms of the outcomes, but the processes that we went through to achieving change.
By retrofitting rather than tearing down the original building, we were able to save money and mitigate environmental waste. By listening to pupils and teachers, we were able to create a more nuanced design. And by demonstrating the clear benefits of good design to central government, we were able to unlock successive funding streams.
In August 2013, Kingsdale School was identified as one of the most popular state secondary schools in the country, and in 2017, it was judged to be outstanding. Huge credit must of course go to the combined talent of staff and pupils. But we would argue that the revived building also proclaims an energy and ambition, and creates a daily sense of wonder, that provides a clear statement for the importance of architecture in educational achievement.