Primary school, Glasgow
GLASGOW (UK) - jmarchitects' bold design makes the most of an old city-centre site.
The Hillhead area of Glasgow was largely developed in the 1850s when three-storey blonde sandstone tenements were laid out on a grid plan on rising ground next to the River Kelvin. The area also encompasses the University of Glasgow, which first established itself here in the 1870s, and borders the mighty Kelvingrove Park. It is one of Glasgow's most colourful and cosmopolitan areas.
In the 1980s one block of tenements collapsed, leaving a gap site. Adding to this an adjacent Parks Department depot, Glasgow City Council chose this as the site for a new school that would combine the function of six existing primary and nursery schools in the area; all schools were in Victorian buildings on tight sites with constricted playgrounds, and all had declining pupil numbers.
With an appreciation of the awkwardness of the site and its location in an area of high architectural value, the City Council opted for a traditional procurement route as opposed to their usual procurement of a batch of schools through a single 'design and build' privately financed contractor, or the in-house production of one generic typology. With the Council's Education Department acting as client, jmarchitects
were selected through competitive interview. They have produced a building which is economical, makes maximum use of its site, and manages to be simultaneously both assertive towards and respectful of its setting.
The building is in two parts. A predominantly 'civic' part (intended also to be used by the community) is set well back from Gibson Street, creating a playground or public space onto which open the school's dining room and games hall. A more sober 'learning block' containing all the classrooms is laid out behind the 'civic' block, nestling between the leafy banks of the Kelvin and the beginnings of Kelvingrove Park. A 32-metre-long glass-walled bridge connects the two blocks and also enables the building to skirt round a derelict house that the council had been unable to acquire.
The south edge of the block is split into a pavement on two levels: the upper level slopes gently upwards into the school's 'civic entrance'. The lower pavement drops down with the street along the side of the building, leading both to the vehicular entrance to the school and to one of the entry points into the classroom block for parents and children. The triangle between these two pavements is finessed with a series of tapering steps, whose perforated risers both mask and vent the car park that lies beneath the front block.
The glass-walled box of the head teacher's room and school library projecting from the south side of the building reinforces this side as the school entrance. The cast glass sections provide both translucency and the necessary elements of privacy, while narrow clear glass windows create some element of transparency and provide for ventilation.
The glass bridge connects the ground floor of the civic block to the first floor of the classroom section, but most pupils use one of the three access points in the perimeter fence around the back of the school (which open at the beginning and end of the school day). From these, pupils arrive on the ground floor of the double-height 'social space' which forms the atrium to one half of the classroom block.
The 21 classrooms are distributed on two levels around the perimeter of this block. Floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides flood them with light and connect them to the bordering river and encroaching park. The three nursery classrooms occupy a single-storey extension at the far end of this part of the building, giving onto their own protected playground, beyond which lies an additional area of paving and grass for the use of the primary school. The building is designed to accommodate 666 primary pupils and 60 nursery-age children.
A cladding of finely precast concrete panels, colour-matched to the sandstone of the surrounding tenements, dominates the front part of the building, while an earthy red brick helps to anchor the classroom block to its river/park setting. The classroom block is further camouflaged by a sedum roof, punctuated only by the atrium's clerestory and the 'chimneys' of the passive ventilation system that serves each classroom.
Although there are occasional disjunctions between materials and forms, jmarchitects have maintained a fine balancing act between contemporary form and traditional setting, and in Hillhead Primary have created an excellent learning environment for the 21st century.
December | 2011 | United Kingdom | Andrew Guest