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Capita Picks Up Two Nominations at AJ Retrofit Awards

4th July 2014

Two Capita-designed projects have been nominated in the ‘Schools’ category at the Architects’ Journal’s 2014 Retrofit Awards.

Wednesfield High School was redeveloped as part of the Wolverhampton Buildings Schools for the Future programme.

Capita provided architecture and engineering services on the project which comprised both new-build and retrofitted elements.

The design process explored a variety of options with the client stakeholders, particularly in the re-use of key spaces, before arriving at a design solution that created ideal adjacencies (especially for out-of-hours use); a dramatic frontage to the main road; a series of diverse external courtyards; and imaginative new uses for the existing accommodation. For example, the existing saw-tooth roofed gym building has been converted to provide a superb dining space, retaining the existing timber floor, high-level glazing and internally exposed brickwork which has been enhanced with a dramatic large-scale mural provided under the associated public-art commission.

The school is a ‘STEM’ school (emphasising science, technology, English and maths), and a new-build two-storey wing along the school’s frontage incorporates highly-serviced science and engineering labs. Single and double height volumes alternate along the wing, with observation open-plan learning spaces overlooking double-height lab spaces.

A parallel three-storey teaching wing to the south is also retrofitted to provide learning spaces for humanities, English and maths. Each floor has two bays cut out to provide a suite of double-height spaces for key spaces – including a student cafe area and open-plan learning hubs.

The retrofitting and extension of the school has provided a completely new entrance arrangement. The new design locates the student entrance at the heart of the school, accessed from a very generous courtyard to gather in, and is closely connected to the dining hall and sports accommodation– helping provide easy access to breakfast clubs, and out-of-hours events.

The finished design has opened to widespread praise from all groups of users, including staff, students and the wider community. Paul Hughes, the deputy headteacher has described the new school as: “Amazing, brilliant and wonderful’, and his involvement in developing the design as: ‘The best working experience of my professional life.”

King’s CE School, meanwhile, was a sample school for the Wolverhampton Buildings Schools for the Future programme.

Capita provided architecture and engineering services on the project. The client’s control option, and expectation, was that most of the existing predominantly 1950s accommodation would be demolished and a large new-build block built in one of the few areas available on site outside of green-belt land: a potential courtyard space occupied by a copse of diverse species deciduous trees.

Our design challenged this assumption and made the case that there was value and quality in the existing buildings – robust construction, excellent floor to ceiling heights, and potential to frame a courtyard – which could be enhanced with a judicious inclusion of a lesser provision of new-build to strengthen the framing of the courtyard. This allowed the copse of trees to be retained, which in the realised built form provides an attractive central focus to the new school. The efficient re-use of existing accommodation also allowed the design to express the school’s ethos for the students to encounter ‘joy and wonder’; especially in the provision of two dramatic double-curved metal-clad and timber-lined spaces for the main lecture theatre and the faith room.

Increasing the proportion of retained accommodation from the original client’s expectation has allowed the school to have more flexible accommodation – with a wide range of diverse learning environments and a more interesting environment to reflect the school’s personality. Where new-build elements are incorporated, clear visual separation to the existing school accommodation has been established, for example in the main three-storey learning zone wing, where a triple-height top-lit ‘slice of light’ separates new from old, This space, which leaves the existing external brick exposed internally and is crossed with timber bridges, provides routes for natural light and ventilation, and a dramatic heart to the learning spaces.

The school has opened to spectacular success; exam results have dramatically improved, student absences have declined, applications for places have significantly increased and staff, students and the community alike have expressed their delight in the design. The headteacher, John Allin has stated that: “Our new school is a delightful place to be in, and wonderfully captures our ambition for joy and wonder.”

The winners will be announced on 17th September.

Photo: (c) Dennis Gilbert

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