CLT and glass ingeniously unite two school buildings in DK:CM’s exercise in architectural continuity
It’s a little project in the eastern flatlands of Norfolk. Not much more than a glazed wooden pavilion joining two masonry-built schools of different eras across what was previously an 8m gap. The box provides a point of arrival and distribution for the now combined school – the infants and juniors of the Wroughton Academy, sponsored by the Creative Education Trust (CET). It also acts as a gateway and visual link between the green playing fields on the western side and the southern end of the large hard-surfaced playground on the eastern side. That, plus an office and meeting room and some integrated furniture, is about it really. But this small insertion has made a big difference. Its effects encompass the whole school.
This is in the suburban hinterland of Gorleston, originally the next and very second-fiddle seaside resort and harbour down the coast from Great Yarmouth, at the mouth of the Yare. It is not a particularly appealing place. From the mid 20th century the Gorleston sprawl west of the Yare gradually joined up with that of its larger neighbour to make it one big indeterminate area with green patches in it. It’s a district of bungalow estates, interwar and postwar pebbledashed semi-detacheds, 1970s carport variegated, some new infill, a large industrial estate to the north – and, running along the eastern edge of the school site – the raised concrete viaduct of the A47, Great Yarmouth’s bypass. The sea may be quite close as the crow flies, but there is absolutely no sense of it here.
The conjoined schools are very different. The much larger junior school at the northern end of the site is an accomplished piece of work from 1950, a lofty single-storey affair arranged in wings, displaying many of the characteristic architectural tics of the time including high-level clerestory windows and abundant natural ventilation. The infants’ school was built at the start of the 1990s in the blockworky, oversailing-roofed manner of the time, sadly not a patch on the equivalent work of Hampshire county architects at this period. Inside it feels relatively dark and poky. But overall the academy has clearly been at work: this is one of these schools where you are met by polite and engaged pupils who have been briefed on who you are and know exactly where to take you.
If you’ve seen some of the earlier work of DK:CM (David Knight and Christina Monteiro’s practice) such as its Barkingside civic centre upgrade, you will know that the pair have a fondness for mid 20th century municipal architecture. They immediately saw the virtues of the 1950 building with its raking crosswalls and well-composed fenestration, to the extent that they modelled their infill building on it – only in cross-laminated timber rather than brick or concrete. As Emily Campbell, the CET’s director of programmes, puts it: ‘The original Wroughton Junior School, which opened in 1950, is a significant example of the ambition and progressiveness of post-war school design and of the “open air schools” movement. The new link building reasserts this ambition in contemporary terms, borrowing the sense of space, scale and character of the original building but in new materials and using extensive off-site construction.’ The CET has a significant architectural remit, with Sasha Bhavan of Knox Bhavan on its board among all the financial, legal, business and educational types. This modest building marks the trust’s first exercise in new-build.
In fact, the idea is that the building is to an extent an educational tool in itself, its clarity of structure made apparent. The diagrid of exposed laminated timber beams forming its roof are echoed in the triangulated patterning of the floor. Its purpose-designed moveable curved benches/storage units can be organised into an impromptu mini-auditorium. Overall the new building is clearly related to the 1950 original while being very obviously from a contemporary mindset. Perhaps subliminally it might trigger something in a child’s mind, start a line of enquiry. The educational environment is an important factor: from such small beginnings, who knows what may result?
1950 original building opened