Thursday03 September 2015

Drawing board: St Saviour’s & St Olave’s School, South London by AOC

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AOC’s extension to a south London girls’ school opens up its defensive design with a glass entrance and uses striking brick signage to emphasise its presence

AOC’s largest project to date, a 2,100sq m extension to St Saviour’s & St Olave’s School in south London, has started on site. Part of the third phase of the Southwark Schools for the Future programme, the development is being built by a consortium led by Balfour Beatty.

Briefed to replace a 1960s science block and create new sixth form accommodation, AOC is taking the opportunity to address the school’s circulation problems and create a more visible school entrance at the same time.

The school, a Church of England girls’ secondary, is situated close to the Bricklayers’ Arms roundabout in Southwark on a largely road-bound, noisy site. As a result, it had adopted a somewhat defensive attitude to its surroundings, bounded by a high wall. The school’s original entrance on the busy New Kent Road had been superseded by another on Bartholomew Street but there was little signage to indicate the school’s presence.

AOC's St Saviour’s St Olave’s site plan

The development site is a two-storey science block along the Bartholomew Street boundary which was both inadequate spatially and in poor condition. Poor links to the rest of the school created dead ends and led to congested corridors, and the block had already been supplemented by four temporary classrooms in the playground. Given the constrained site, the ideal solution would have been to intensify development on the science block site but this was ruled out by daylight issues in relation to the nearby housing.

The architect’s solution is a three-storey steel-framed, largely brick-faced extension with the upper level — for the sixth form — stepped back. The block encloses an existing courtyard with circulation flowing around this from the new building to the rest of the school on each level. On the ground floor there will be a new glazed entrance, a meeting room, ICT/music facilities, a science lab and a double-height activity studio that opens on to the courtyard. Seven science labs will be located on the first floor.

AOC was inspired by historical examples such as Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire

The new building is constructed in brick and is slightly cranked along the 54m-long Bartholomew Street elevation to animate the street facade and guide people towards the new entrance. The elevation is further nuanced by a combination of different window treatments — on the ground floor reveals are half a brick deep with white frames, while on the first floor they are a full brick with dark grey frames. On the top floor, the setback creates a roof terrace for the sixth form plus a seminar and common room, topped by a standing seam aluminium roof.

AOC's St Saviour’s&St Olave’s first floor plan

AOC's St Saviour’s&St Olave’s ground floor plan

As well as the new entrance on the east, AOC is creating a second communicative element on the west of the new building, where the name of the school will be integrated on the entablature in appliquéd, pre-cast concrete lettering, 2m high and colour-matched to the brick. The practice was inspired by historical examples such as Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire, where a psalm is integrated in large lettering into the house and grounds, as well as more local examples such as the lettering on the nearby former Hartley’s jam factory.

On this elevation, the bricks will contrast in shade with those on the Bartholomew Street elevation but will match that of the old, blurring perceptions of what’s old and what’s new.

Inside, the walls will be off-white painted plaster and the floors will be covered in striped lino with diamond patterns where the corridors cross. Ceilings will be plasterboard and metal. Exposed steelwork will be highlighted in rose and sage near the entrance, sage in the sixth form and sky blue in the science area.

The project, which followed on from AOC’s new block at Spa Special school, has enabled the practice to grow to 12 staff. Construction is expected to complete at the end of the year.

New glazed entrance

Belgian inspiration for 14m-tall curtain wall

For the school’s new glass entrance, AOC referred to the work of de Vylder Vinck Taillieu at Les Ballets C de La B en LOD rehearsal building in Ghent, Belgium, where activities are expressed in a mannered way behind glass facade.

A glazed entrance will be created on the eastern elevation.

A glazed entrance will be created on the eastern elevation.

On the east facade, AOC is using a shaped curtain wall approximately 16.5m wide by 14m tall within a steel structure but with a composition of carefully coloured plasterboard panels and a large vinyl graphic of the school’s emblem across the full height of the entrance.

“It gives a slightly graphic, pop facade,” says Tom Coward, adding that the practice has long had an interest in commu-nicative architecture. While it is designed to catch the eye of passers-by down New Kent Road and Great Dover Street, it is still quite subtle, he says.

The facade, comprising a proprietary 50mm aluminium curtain walling system, unifies a number of disparate conditions including a retained staircase, floor slabs, brown roof and an external roof plant.

Mullions are spaced at 1.2m centres, with glazed panels between 2.8m and 3.9m in height. Frame depth is 155mm internally, with a natural anodised finish both internally and externally. 

Folded aluminium back panels have been developed to line various backgrounds and mirror the curtain walling geometry.

A subtle two-tone colour system has been applied across panels to offer further visual variation.

Structurally the system has been designed to withstand high wind loads, and is fixed to the primary steel structure through a combination of hanging and standing support brackets.

Project team
Architect and landscape architect
AOC, Construction and facilities management lead Balfour Beatty, Structural and services engineer Gifford, Cost consultant Rider Levell Bucknall



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