Torriano Primary School Lab is breathtaking place for experiments

Words:
Michèle Woodger

Hayhurst and Co's conversion of a Victorian turret is a literal and metaphorical framework for learning

An impressive double-height space instils a sense of wonder.
An impressive double-height space instils a sense of wonder. Credit: Kilian O'Sullivan

Building: STEM Laboratory Hub for Primary School

Location: Kentish Town, London Borough of Camden

Architect: Hayhurst and Co

Building type: Educational


When the teachers at Torriano Primary School in Camden engaged Hayhurst and Co to build a STEM Laboratory for their own pupils and others in the district, they hoped that working with an architect would ‘bring a little magic to the table’. They wanted pupils to experience a sense of wonderment about science, technology, engineering and maths.

Nothing says fairy-tale more than a castle turret, and the Victorian school building had an unused, two-storey one. The architects created a small roof-top extension, an external ‘learning terrace’ and a living wall, in just 51m2 – turning it, in judge Hugh Pearman’s words, into ‘an intriguing place to go to do science’.

  • The interior plywood superstructure is a frame for science experiments.
    The interior plywood superstructure is a frame for science experiments. Credit: Kilian O'Sullivan
  • A green wall teaches pupils about biodiversity.
    A green wall teaches pupils about biodiversity. Credit: Kilian O'Sullivan
  • The new STEM Lab was built in a unused Victorian turret.
    The new STEM Lab was built in a unused Victorian turret. Credit: Kilian O'Sullivan
  • The space offers many opportunities for hands-on learning.
    The space offers many opportunities for hands-on learning. Credit: Kilian O'Sullivan
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The lab is for practical experiments, so the architects adopted a similarly hands-on approach with the designs, asking pupils, teachers and the artist-in-residence to test, draw and model activities. The result is a breathtaking double-height space occupied by a laminated plywood superstructure. This is also a piece of science apparatus – a literal and metaphorical framework for learning. Items can be dropped from, threaded through, projected onto and clamped to the frame. A black-out area can be used for light-based experiments. Constellations are etched into the faces of the timber; these provide fixing points as well as being useful learning tools.  ‘The space is playful and well-used… it makes use of what they have,’ says judge Ceci­lie Sachs Olsen.

A planted wall teaches about nature and bio­diversity, and, thanks to the flexible, non-prescriptive interior, the space has the capacity to evolve naturally too.


Click here to see the longlist and other shortlisted schemes

Credits

Architect: Hayhurst and Co; Claire Taggart (project architect), Nick Hayhurst (director), Alex Boyce (architectural assistant)
Artist in residence: Jack Cornell
Project manager: LB Camden (Paul Greatbatch)
Structural engineer: Iain Wright Associates
Services engineer: Edward Pearce
CDM advisor: Goddard Consulting
Building control: Camden Building Control
Main contractor: Bolt & Heeks
Torriano Primary School staff and pupils