Westminster Academy at the Naim Dangoor Centre

London. 2007

  • Project Details
  • Completion: 2007
  • Cost: £27.8 Million
  • Clients: Westminster Academy

Thinking about ‘Universality of Use’ and employing connectivity and flexibility to provide pupils with a place where they take control of their own education, Westminster Academy’s open configuration of spaces is as much a creative workplace as it is a theatre of learning. A long, rectangular block, stratified with glass panels and coloured bands of terracotta tiles, rises up out of its gritty context to provide a civic landmark. The plan centres on a ground floor ‘marketplace’ which links all key communal spaces and visually connects the entire school via a full-height atrium. Within the building, a robust material palette of unfinished concrete, timber and painted blockwork combines with super scaled graphics and artworks to foreground the learning environment and encourage exhibition and display. This Stirling Prize-shortlisted city Academy accommodates 1175 students and 128 staff. The local community, who were extensively consulted with during the project, has access to much of the school and its sports facilities.

Awards

AIA Award for Architecture 2010 Building Magazine: Public Building Project of the Year 2009 Civic Trust Award 2009 BCSE Industry Award for Inspiring Design 2008 Best Incorporation of Daylight Award 2008 Design Share Citation Award 2008 Design Week Wayfinding & Environmental Graphics Award 2008 RIBA National Award for Architecture 2008 RIBA Sorrell Foundation School Award 2008 RIBA Stirling Prize: Shortlist 2008 RIBA The London Building of the Year Award 2008 Specialist Schools & Academies Trust Future Vision Award 2007

The Westminster Academy is a new secondary school in West London, housing 1175 pupils and 128 staff members. The sponsor, Exilarch Foundation and the founding principal had a powerful vision of learning for the school that embraces the latest thinking in education and the ideals of the RSA Curriculum of the 21st century. The core values of the Academy are Enterprise, Global Citizenship and Communication delivered through a flexible and responsive learning framework that gives pupils individual responsibility for their education and encourages team working by both staff and pupils.


In response to this clear and progressive brief, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris have created a building that draws upon the extensive and varied experience of their practice in a range of sectors. The driving idea was to create a learning environment that inspired creativity and enabled connectivity and flexibility. This approach seeks to create a completely different learning environment – one that raises expectations in terms of what this might mean in the 21st century.


Civic Pride

The Academy is located in a gritty urban context, dominated by the Westway flyover, surrounding 1960s tower blocks and the Harrow Road. The site is also crossed by a public right of way and houses several public sports pitches. The physical complexities of the site are matched by the cultural and social challenges of working in one of the poorest areas in the capital with a secondary school population of whom a high proportion are bilingual.


The school is located along one edge of the site lining the Harrow Road in the form of a five-storey building housing all facilities except the sports facilities. These are housed in a separate building to allow for all year round community use.


In response to the powerful sculptural nature of the surrounding architecture and civil engineering and the need for a fully sealed building, the Academy façade is boldly stratified into large panels of glazing, vibrantly coloured terracotta tiles in green and yellow and a series of illuminated screens. These layers, relating to the functions inside, create a highly-reflective building by day that transforms into a colourfully glowing beacon at night.


The rear elevation to the south continues this stratification with deep cantilevered balconies overlooking the terraced outdoor spaces. These balconies act as the primary means of escape for the classrooms and therefore allowing the central atrium to be totally open.


Sustainability

Sustainability was a core theme of the project approached through the design of all elements and the selection of materials and services. Within the glazed atrium, which provides significant amounts of natural light within the building, the system for shading has been designed as a sculptural feature running north/south. The system of baffles, coloured green and yellow in one direction and painted white on the reverse to maximise reflected light provide effective shading but are made from simple door blanks.


Due to the requirement to keep out noise from the Westway and Harrow Road the building is sealed and so mechanically ventilated, which provides greater flexibility in use to spaces internally.


The in-situ, exposed concrete frame, projecting balconies on the rear elevation and the sedum roof are all sustainable features that have been designed to add drama to the school whilst delivering a range of environmental advantages – now and during the life of the building.


Educational Achievement

Since opening in 2006 Westminster Academy has more than tripled its exam results.  In 2010 74% of Academy students have achieved five or more subjects with higher grade passes. This represents a massive improvement in the number of students attaining five or more GCSE subjects at grade C and above: from 23% in 2007, 42% in 2008, 72% in 2009 and now 74% in 2010. The number of students achieving five or more GCSE subjects with higher grade passes including English and Maths has more than doubled over the last three years; from 17% in 2007 to 45% in 2010.


In 2010 the Academy also celebrated impressive International Baccalaureate (IB), BTEC National Certificate and A Level results. With 75% of grades awarded equivalent to grades C and above at A Level, it is unsurprising that 100% of students who applied for university places have received offers.


This now makes Westminster Academy one of the most improved schools in the country. 


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