Harris Aspire Academy

- Insights

10TH June 2019

A Creative Conversion

— AUTHOR
Alex Proctor

— DATE
10TH June 2019

— CATEGORY
Insights

— SECTOR
Schools + FE

— SERVICES
Architecture
Interior Design

Associate director Alex Proctor explains how we turned an unwelcoming, brutalist police station into a bespoke professional skills sixth form building.

With tight budgets and limited available land, schools are increasingly looking for other viable solutions to their building needs. We recently converted a former police station into an inspiring new sixth form and vocational learning environment for Harris Aspire Academy.

There is often a misconception that a refurbishment will result in a compromise to the building design. It is, however, possible to make a repurposed building feel like a bespoke building, and in fact there are some inherent benefits over a new build. As an example, at Harris Aspire Academy we were able to maximise the use of continuous ribbon windows for the majority of the teaching spaces, including the art department, which uses the panoramic views as subject matter for the students’ art projects. Such extensive glazing wouldn’t usually be affordable on a typical new build.

A sustainable option

Reuse and adaptation contribute to regeneration and sustainability on many levels, adding to a place’s sense of identity and social cohesion. They essentially negate the need for demolition, reducing the amount of new materials required for the development, while reducing wastage that would otherwise go to landfill and making economic use of a building that has stood empty for many years.

While better-insulated new builds are expected to make up for the higher carbon emissions during construction through lower operational emissions, studies indicate that this could take a long time to achieve. In response to this, we improved the building performance where at all possible within the budget, to reduce the impact loadings on the new services infrastructure. This included replacing the low performance windows, installing daylight-linked, low-energy LED lighting, PIRs, and increasing the insulation to the flat roofs and walls. Sustainable urban drainage methods were also introduced to the scheme, as we installed an area of extensive green roof to reduce surface water run-off from the building and decrease its impact on the mains sewer.

Supporting wellbeing

Amidst rising rates of depression and anxiety in young people, it is essential that we design buildings that support health and wellbeing. According to a theory by Edward O Wilson, humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature; if we lose that relationship for a long period, we can start to show signs of stress. We incorporated the principles of biophilic design to provide the essential psychological and physiological benefits that exposure to nature offers. This includes full-height supergraphics illustrating natural landscapes at each floor level. The themed supergraphics not only give the impression of spaciousness in the corridors, but add focal interest and facilitate wayfinding by making spaces more memorable.

To counteract the psychological effects of having no natural daylight or views at basement level, an LED-backlit image of the sky was installed, mimicking a rooflight to subconsciously reinforce the students’ and staff’s innate connection to nature.

The final result

Despite initial concerns that a disused police station would not lend itself to being repurposed as an education facility, the stakeholders, academy and the students are delighted with the delivered design.

Gary Herbert, project director at Free Schools Capital, said: “The end product has been delivered to a very high quality that sets the bar for other school refurbishment projects.”

Written by:

Associate Director
Alex Proctor

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