Primary school building transforms educational experiences for its pupils and the community

Cascading terraces provide pupils at Chelsea’s Marlborough Primary School with light filled classrooms and expansive outside play and learning areas

Marlborough Primary School redevelopment in Chelsea creates an aerial photography, apartment, architecture, bird's eye view, building, city, condominium, downtown, metropolis, metropolitan area, mixed use, neighbourhood, real estate, residential area, roof, suburb, urban area, urban design, white
Marlborough Primary School redevelopment in Chelsea creates an inclusive and inspiring 21st Century learning environment along with a commercial building and pedestrian link. The scheme replaces a Victorian school which had stood on the site since 1878.

While the nature of today’s schools and whatgoes on inside them undoubtedly has little in common with what passed as education 140 years ago, there are still some schools that have had to shoehorn modern educational practices into buildings that date back a couple of centuries.

Until recently, Marlborough Primary School in Chelsea had been one such school – occupying a Victorian building that had been on its site since 1878. But the building‘s replacement programme by architects Dixon Jones has propelled the school dramatically into the future, providing an environment that allows pupils to enjoy all the flexibility, openness and variety of 21st century pedagogy.

Project architect Paul Jolly says the extremely challenging redevelopment brief was the product of an unusually convoluted planning negotiation, which included creating a temporary school to accommodate pupils while the new building was being constructed.

“With limited opportunities for expansion, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea concluded the original Victorian School was no longer capable of supporting their needs. In addition to facilities for a larger two-form-entry school requiring over 2500m² of playgrounds, the brief also called for a new commercial building for office and shops, and a pedestrian link to be provided across the site,” says Jolly.

“The challenge was, therefore, how to achieve this significant increase in density across the confined urban site whilst creating a fitting replacement for the original Victorian school.”

Added to this were the constraints posed by a 10-storey apartment building to the east, contrasted with a 5-storey party wall to the west.

A retractable partition separating the two dynamic hall architecture, auditorium, ceiling, classroom, conference hall, daylighting, function hall, interior design, leisure centre, line, structure, white
A retractable partition separating the two dynamic hall spaces at Marlborough Primary School allows the whole of the ground floor to be opened into a single space for large communal events and become the social heart of the school.

“These massing constraints resulted in a stepped section across the site, establishing a series of cascading ‘garden terraces’ that offer a rich diversity of external spaces located off classrooms. The school is organised around this vertical section, starting with the youngest pupils (3-5 years) at ground floor through to junior pupils (9-11 years) at the top.”

This arrangement also allowed for the main hall – for assemblies and dining – and a large multi-use space to form the school’s social heart on the ground floor. Retractable partitioning separating these two dynamic hall spaces means the whole of the ground floor can be opened into a single space for large communal events.

“Large rooflights bring natural daylight deep into the heart of the plan to enliven the communal hall areas below and the circulation spaces running alongside the atrium."

Classrooms at each level are positioned on the edge of the terraces, with sliding doors opening directly onto the external learning and play areas. As well as promoting exercise and sport, the terraces are landscaped so children can experience the benefits of nature despite the city location.

The landscaping includes raised tree planters, productive garden areas for the schools ‘growing club’–  including a greenhouse, planters and composting wormery – and trailing plants and espalier pear trees behind the timber pergola screens on the rooftop playgrounds.

In the design of the new building for architecture, deck, house, property, real estate, orange
In the design of the new building for Marlborough Primary School, the arrangement of cascading terraces created 2825sm of external learning and play areas, including productive garden areas for the school’s ‘growing club’.

“Extensive dialogue with the local planning authority ensured the proposed massing and the masonry detailing with its characteristic stone banding complemented both the original school and the wider surroundings, with the green glazed brick and circular windows referencing the colourful 1911 Michelin House nearby.”

The local authority also required a sustainable design, and Dixon Jones responded with a low-energy passive approach to minimise running costs and reduce the need for future maintenance.

Having the classrooms alongside the cascading roof terraces allows them to be naturally ventilated, while the generous floor-to-ceiling heights allow deep daylight penetration, reducing the need for internal lighting.

With its expanded replacement building, Marlborough Primary School has increased its primary school intake, as well as now accommodating a full time nursery and an autism centre – providing for a total of 458 pupils. In addition, the cascading terraces have increased the external play area from 1585m² in the old site plan to 2825m² with the new school building.

“Also, in contrast to the old school which stood behind foreboding brick boundary walls, the new building engages with the community with a welcoming entrance and playground gates,” says Jolly.

“The school supports a range of extra-curricular activities to help families with working parents. It’s also designed to have a range of out-of-hours community uses, including meeting facilities, ballet classes and a 5-a-side football club which extend the building’s use beyond the normal school day.”

Credit list

Marlborough Primary School
Dixon Jones
Design and build contractor
Quantity surveyor
Mechanical & electrical
Acoustic consultant
Sandy Brown Associates
Access consultant
David Bonnett Associates
Landscape architect
MacGregor Smith
Roofing system
Axter Wilotekt-Plus
Windows, doors, curtain wall, rooflights
School – Freshfield Lane Danehill Yellow; Commercial building – Ibstock Ashdown Bexhill Dark
Movable acoustic wall partition
London Wall
Chelsea, London
Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Project manager
Structural engineer
Waterman Structures
Fire engineering
Exova Warrington Fire
BREEAM Consultant
ADP Architecture
Brickwork, cast stone
Play surfaces
Specialist Sports Products
Rainscreen cladding
Trespa Meteon
Acoustic ceilings, rafts, baffles
Rubber flooring

Story by: Paul Taylor

Photography by: Paul Riddle

04 Oct, 2018

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