New 2FE Lauriston Primary School

Client: The Hackney Learning Trust
Project Cost: £8.2 million
Completed: Phase 1 playground works 2007; Phase 2 schoolkeepers house 2008; Phase 3 main school initial build for 1FE decant 2009; Phase 4 final works completed 2011

Following their selection for the Hackney Education Framework MGA were chosen in 2007 for this high profile and challenging project. The commission was won through competitive interview and presentation of our interests and approach which chimed with the creative aspirations of the school - consultation, shared learning, r&d, the role of memory within the transformation of old to new, multi-media investigations, creative partnerships, collaborations with artists, and proven ability to establish creative dialogue.

The brief for a new 2FE primary school to replace the existing 1FE school, builds on its creative school status and the current staff’s innovative approach to learning through performance, cross fertilisation, the arts and an inclusive school environment. Together, these constitute the specific 'Lauristoness' of the school which was of primary importance to preserve and translate into the new building.

A combination of existing site constraints and the ambitious brief set by the current school created an extremely complex set of challenges, further increased by the key requirement to keep the existing school in operation during the works. Located as an ‘island’ block in the middle of the site, the single storey 1970s school significantly restricted the location of any new development. The challenge was to resolve the range of site complexities not just on a logistical level, but to create a future school that would be a cohesive, exemplary innovative learning environment.

A further key challenge was to create a new school of more than twice the built area, whilst also increasing the external playspace, on an extremely restricted urban site. Our 3 storey solution achieved this by raising the classroom block as a linear bridge structure relating to the canopies of the existing trees. The foundation stage younger classes are located on ground level for free flow access to outside play. This 'treehouse' school embodies the school’s aim for all classrooms to share an equality of learning environment, with high levels of natural daylight, ventilation and views to the greenery of the site, enjoyed in the current school. Raised classrooms create an undercroft playspace formed by the 'ghost' of the present school, that provides a large covered play area equivalent to an outside sports hall. Combined with roof decks at various levels, the reduced building footprint not only increases the amount of external playspace on the site but also the range and diversity of play, sport and outdoor learning experiences.

As an operational school environment we developed a detailed approach to phasing which allows the new school to be constructed around the existing without any interruption to education. Work on site commenced with ‘quick wins’ in the summer of 2007 to improve the playground in readiness for the reduction in site during construction; followed by enabling works to re-build the schoolkeeper's house. The designs allowed the first phase of the main school to be built next to the existing within interstitial space at the front of the site which opened in September 2009 to decant the existing 1FE school and first intake of 2FE in foundation stage. Phased completion of additional classrooms followed demolition of the existing school. Disruption to the current school was minimized through the extensive use of prefabricated elements that reduced both the overall site period and the noise and dust created during construction. In particular, the main structure of large prefabricated KLH timber panels proved highly effective as a relatively quick site assembly and provides a final internal environment of exposed timber surfaces that offer visual warmth and texture.

Beyond the complex logistical issues of a live education site, this has raised the issue of how the process of change and transformation can be presented to and enjoyed by the school pupils, parents and staff. The theme of transformation has been explored through a series of events involving the whole school community which investigate the historic layers of the site over the last 250 years: from rural historic watercress fields as a science project (left); to later residential Victorian terraces; to the current school and what the future school could be.