As locations for a new school go, they don’t get much more prestigious than Queen Elizabeth Park in Stratford. Bobby Moore Academy occupies two sites within the area that played host to the London 2012 Games – a six-storey secondary school building and a two-storey primary building approximately eight minutes’ walk away from each other.
Naturally, it’s the primary school that concerns us here. Situated a short walk away from London Stadium, right beside the Lee Navigation Canal with commanding views across to Hackney Wick, the vision for the school is closely tied to the London 2012 legacy.
As principal Stuart Burns explains, “Part of that legacy includes the regeneration and rebuilding of communities in East London, which are hugely deprived areas. The spirit of the school is therefore based around opportunity – not just academically, but also in sport, drama and music. Our trust, the David Ross Education Trust, has strong ties to both sport and the arts, and wanted to ensure that the schools’ buildings were well geared up to offer enrichment opportunities.”
Work on both schools commenced in September 2015, with architect Penoyre & Prasad joining the project as part of a contractor framework that included Balfour Beatty. Given the high profile nature of the site, Penoyre & Prasad’s designs had to be approved not just by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, but also the Queen Elizabeth Park’s own design review panel. Funding for the schools’ construction came mostly from the ESFA, but also included contributions from the David Ross Education Trust and the London Legacy Development Corporation.
Bobby Moore Academy’s primary setting is a two form entry school from reception up to year 6, accommodating 420 pupils and occupying around 2,500 square metres of floor area – at least for now. As Rafael Marks, project architect at Penoyre & Prasad recalls, “One of the complexities of the design was that there was some tension between what the ESFA, the DfE and the David Ross Education Trust all wanted. The trust wanted a two form entry school, but the ESFA wanted a school that could be expanded to three form entry.”
Complicating matters further were the chosen site’s building restrictions. “There are two Thames Water mains running right through the middle of it, which meant there was a ‘no-go zone’ we couldn’t build on,” Marks explains. “That pushed the building right to the edge of the site, along the canal. For the school, it’s great. The classrooms, circulation spaces and hall all look out on to the canal, so the views from the school are fantastic – but any future expansion will have to be upwards, rather than sideways.”
The team thus deliberately oversized some of the building’s shared spaces that would be likely be impossible to extend later. As a result, the hall, kitchen and library are all slightly larger than one would expect to see in a two form entry school. If and when Bobby Moore Academy is called on to grow, either end of the building will be extended upwards, with the central roof covering the hall forming a play area.
The Penoyre & Prasad team also allowed for future expansion by giving careful thought to the building’s classroom layout, which presently consists of two classroom pairs separated by a corridor on both floors. Were a third floor to be added, this would change to three classrooms for years 3, 4 and 5 on successive floors, with one year 6 class on each floor, Marks notes that “The curriculum model would be such that the year 6 pupils could become mentors for the younger kids.”
Open to all
Another key consideration in the design of both buildings was the need for the school’s facilities to be made accessible to the local community after hours and at weekends, without causing any security issues.
Said facilities include an Olympic standard athletics track at the secondary site and a multi-use 3G artificial pitch just north of the primary building. “The primary has some really strong spaces and has already been used by a few of our local partners for meetings and other events,” says Stuart Burns. “It’s got a good dining hall, a recreational hall and a dance and drama studio that can be used for all manner of things.”
“On either side of the primary building’s two halls you have key stage 1 to the north and key stage 2 to the south, each with their own separate entrances,” adds Rafael Marks. “Those can be locked down after hours whilst the central area is being used – the spaces are quite clearly delineated.”
Space and light
The primary building opened its doors in September 2017 – so how does the end result compare against the initial plans? “Pretty much as conceived,” replies Marks. “There was some rearranging of the internal entrance area which involved moving the lift a bit, but nothing drastic. And there was only so much we could do, given the constraints of the site.” One of those constraints is the school’s extremely close proximity to the canal, though as Burns notes, “It’s worked out really well. We’re built above the towpath’s retaining wall, so if I stand looking out of the balcony over the canal, my feet are at head height of any passersby. Once you’ve added fencing on top of that, the building’s pretty much impregnable from the towpath side. We have CCTV around the school, and really enjoy our location. It’s becoming a very beautiful and enjoyable place for people to live.”
Finally, I ask what aspects of the school Burns is proudest of. “There’s an incredible sense of space and light. We worked hard in challenging the need for extra walls and unnecessarily dark corridors, working closely with fire safety officers while doing so. The space and light contributes hugely to pupil welfare, behaviour and our ability to passively supervise, rather than having to physically walk around every single corner.”
Raphael Marks explains the thinking behind the building’s heating and ventilation:
“The building absorbs heat during the day, which then dissipates in the evening. All of the spaces are naturally ventilated, using thermal hybrid units to mix the air.
In winter, outside air enters through these boxes, which are set at a high level on the external wall with louvres on the front. Inside each box sits a fan, which in winter draws cold air in and mixes it with room temperature air before dispelling it into the classrooms.
That way you don’t get the cold, downward drafts you’d have if you were to simply open a window. In summer the fans work the opposite way, taking air from classrooms and dispelling it out through the louvres.
A big reason for using this system in both buildings is that they’re on the City Airport flight path, so there was a need to minimise the amount of aircraft noise that could potentially disrupt lessons.”