The Michael Tippett School is both the first ‘Building Schools for the Future’ (BSF) project in London and the first Special Education Needs school to be built under the BSF programme. The school specialises in teaching older, 11 to 18-year-old students with profound and multiple learning disabilities, requiring a high teacher : student ratio and numerous special facilities. Its previous premises, in an existing building, had been adequate but not ideal, so when the possibility arose to build a new purpose-designed school under the BSF initiative, the school and its local authority, Lambeth, jumped at the chance. Following a limited competition, we were commissioned to undertake the work.
The budget was limited and the site was small, but our initial concern was that we knew little about teaching children with such profound disabilities, and needed to build up a clear understanding of what the school actually required. In the initial stages, therefore, a considerable amount of time was spent watching the existing school in action, visiting other schools for comparison, and working out how much could be delivered within the constraints of both the BSF guidelines and the site.
Fortunately, both Lambeth and the school understood our concerns and allowed us the time to work through numerous options (21 at the final count), constantly refining and improving what was possible. It was an arduous process, but it enabled us to achieve what the school, Lambeth and ourselves considered the best possible solution. More importantly, we were able to engage directly with both teachers and pupils, involving them in the design process and building a sense of excitement for the coming move, an important consideration for children who often find change distressing.
Sustainability was a key issue and the form of the building was determined, in part, by the section through the classrooms, so that both natural light and ventilation were maximised. A sedum roof provides excellent insulation as well as a natural habitat for plants and small wildlife — itself an extra educational tool — while the building’s exposed concrete floors and soffits provide the benefits of themal mass for natural cooling in summer and for retaining warmth in winter. Read more
The ethos of the school is to help its pupils prepare themselves for the world they will encounter outside, rather than to protect them, and the school was keen to retain the strong links with the local community that they had enjoyed in their previous premises. The school was therefore designed to engage with its surroundings, creating a welcoming presence on Heron Road that reflects its personality and ethos. The school was completed on time and on budget but, more importantly from our point of view, it has also been well received by all concerned — the teachers, the parents and, most importantly of all, the children. As one parent noted to the press at the school’s opening in Febraury 2008, “the building screams out, ‘Come and join us’.”.