Faced with tight budgets and limited land, many clients have taken a creative approach to building new schools. In the case of Harris Aspire Academy, the London Borough of Bromley decided to repurpose an old police station, converting it into a professional skills sixth form building. It was a project which posed unique challenges – and opportunities.
While adapting an existing building is in principle much more sustainable than demolishing it to build something new, the building still suffered from poor energy performance. We also needed to consider the wellbeing of students – a real challenge at basement level, where there was no natural light available.
The building came with its own opportunities, and we took full advantage of these. For instance, continuous ribbon windows gave us the perfect setting for teaching spaces such as the art department, combining natural light with inspiring, panoramic views. Such extensive glazing would probably have been unaffordable if we were building the school from scratch.
To help with wellbeing, we used the design principles of biophilia – adding full-height graphics of natural landscapes to the inside walls. This not only gives corridors the appearance of spaciousness, but also helps with wayfinding, as each floor has its own identity inspired by the natural world. In the basement, an LED-backlit image of the sky mimics a rooflight, counteracting the effects of being underground.
The building has taken on a new life, and vulnerable students from troubled backgrounds can now learn life-changing skills at Harris Aspire.
“The end product has been delivered to a very high quality that sets the bar for other school refurbishments. I’ll certainly be bringing one contractor to the school to show them what can be achieved from a police station refurb.”– GARY HERBERT, EDUCATION AND SKILLS FUNDING AGENCY