Henley Halebrown’s Stirling shortlisted project is a carefully considered response to a challenging brief, writes Ben Flatman

Henley Halebrown have built a reputation for carefully considered urbanism over the past three decades. From the pioneering Copper Lane co-housing scheme in Stoke Newington to the impressively rigorous Chadwick Hall at the University of Roehampton and Kings Crescent in Hackney, the practice has proven itself adept at sympathetic, yet innovative urban interventions.

The Hackney New Primary School feels like a natural but significant evolution of the practice’s previous work. Henley Halebrown have taken a well-known but very ordinary London streetscape and created a building which combines a sense of both the monumental and the intimate.

That they have been able to pull this off, while still maintaining a profound respect for the rhythm of the streetscape and wider context, is testament to the practice’s skill and accumulated learning over previous projects.

Henley Halebrown have salvaged some civic gravitas and public generosity from the claws of our hollowed-out systems of public administration

Arguably, this is really two discrete projects in one. What was previously the site of a fire station, has been monetised through the sale of flats in the tower block to subsidise the primary school at its base. Whether this is the way we should be paying for or planning our school building programmes is open to debate.

But, regardless of the politics, what is undeniable is that Henley Halebrown have salvaged some civic gravitas and public generosity from the claws of our hollowed-out systems of public administration. This is also a huge achievement in itself.

From the outside the pink tower mixes echoes of Italian rationalism with memories of postwar British public housing. And the school, with its white ceramic brick-lined courtyard, seems to be referencing an even earlier era of Victorian and Edwardian expansion in public services.

The Stirling judges described the central octagonal staircase as being “mesmerising, like a wormhole to another dimension”. As a whole, the project manages to combine a number of complex responses to the brief and site without appearing disparate or confused.

With its rich mix of inspirations and collage of interior and external spaces, this is as deserving of the Stirling prize as any project on the shortlist.

Project team

Architects Henley Halebrown

Structural engineers Techniker

Environmental / M&E engineers Elementa

Landscape architects Tyler Grange

Planting Jennifer Benyon Design

Artist Paul Morrison

Planning consultant CMA Planning

Principal designer Potter Raper

Approved inspector MLM

Fire consultant BWC Fire

Acoustic engineers Pace Consult

Transport consultant Phil Jones Associates


Project details

Client Downham Road Ltd. (JV)

Contractor Thornsett Structures

Date of completion June, 2020

Date of occupation June, 2020

Contract value £26,000,000.00

Gross internal area 8,500m²

Net internal area 6,075m²

Cost per square metre £3,059