Building Study: Bellenden Primary School, London, by Cottrell and Vermuelen

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A compact island site in south-east London has been turned into a spacious, playful primary school that’s cleverly knitted into the urban fabric

What are the main elements that come to mind when we think of a school? A playground? Corridors? Defensiveness? What then might we think of a school that has successfully managed to eliminate, or at least significantly reconfigure, all three? This is exactly what Cottrell and Vermeulen’s revolutionary new school in Peckham, south London has managed to achieve. 

Bellenden Primary School is a new primary and nursery school that opened at the end of last year. The school moved into its new building after having been located in a nearby site for the past 40 years. The building is submerged deep in Peckham’s residential backstreets and is surrounded by a rich array of fine and often tree-lined Victorian residential terraces that offer a charming snapshot of classic London domesticity. 

Bellenden is also the latest in a long line of schools that Cottrell and Vermuelen has completed for the London Borough of Southwark. These are part of an ambitious school building programme across the borough that, as well as Cottrell and Vermuelen, has attracted a stellar list of prominent architects including Maccreanor Lavington, Hawkins Brown and Haverstock. In so doing Southwark now boasts an astonishing collection of contemporary educational buildings and has effectively turned itself into one of the foremost patrons of public schools architecture in the country.  

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