Tell us about the early design brief
In 2008 a centrally funded Academy (with contribution from a private sponsor and independent of local authority control) was confirmed on the Olympic site. It was planned to be an ‘all-through’ school for ages three to 18 and was so called ‘Chobham Academy’ after an existing approach road and a farm that was once located on the site.
What inspired your design concept?
We thoroughly investigated alternative theoretical and constructed spatial layouts for a typical academy and came up with the idea of the drum shape in light of earlier existing London street grain analysis.
Did you know…
- A series of large earth tubes are buried in the school playground which draw air into the buildings to provide natural low-energy air conditioning.
- The school was used by LOCOG as their HQ during the Games, and the different international Olympic teams took residence in different classrooms. The school library was also a nerve centre for the security services that ensured the safe operation of the London 2012 Games.
What challenges did you face along the way?
The lack of an existing school brought freedom, but also questions as to the future for the school. We decided that the drum form would allow the school to become an effective marker building at its terminus and we explored various radii to verify that a circular plan would be neither more expensive to construct nor less practical than a more conventional shape.
Other buildings on the site create an urban, site-specific campus that engages with the surrounding streets. Clusters of classrooms were placed within the buildings, with some larger-span spaces for the specialism areas and a new public realm area between the buildings to provide shelter, entrances and good community access.
What about specific design challenges?
The masterplan called for single-colour buildings in the Olympic Village from a very restricted colour palette. After a flirtation with shades of orange (that was vetoed by others), we considered the colouration of glass as a natural material. Inherent iron content gives standard float glass a slightly green appearance and this natural tint will change the colour of any paint applied, such as on the reverse of glass spandrel panels. Based on these findings, we decided to coat all insulated spandrel panels with a simple colour of white, which reads as ‘eau de nil’ when seen through the glass. Importantly this colour is on the back face of the inner pane of a double glazed unit and is turned to eau de nil when seen through the sheets of float glass, along with a series of small and large scale reflections.
The ‘eau de nil’ colour was also selected for the grid of aluminium mullions and transoms, which transformed the design into something more powerful and unusual. The colour was mixed to order by the paint manufacturer, and matches the colour of the glass spandrel panels perfectly. As a counterpoint and witty comment on the cost and material characteristics of glass, more expensive low-iron glass is inset as small panes into the façade. They are backed with the same paint, yet they remain pure white; a non-colour highlight that creates a similar effect to that of ticking on a tailored suit.
Elsewhere on the site, a new bridge acts as a gateway from the north east. Ninety-five metres long, the bridge springs up from the specialism building across the busy Temple Mill Lane and ends on a formed mound within additional playing fields. Made from weathering steel, the bridge is defiantly slender and is an expression of the structural stress diagram used to create it, with external fins describing a ribbon of varying size along its length. Its construction features two double-V support ‘trees’ resting on pre-cast concrete piers, while concealed internal feature lighting diffuses through a series of portholes, providing pedestrians with a safe transit across the bridge.
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
A bespoke all-age academy for a new residential district of London is a rare and delightful opportunity. We all realised that combined with the prestige and focus of the Games, Chobham Academy could be the best new school to be built in London in a generation. After a challenging and exhilarating seven-year journey it was very exciting to see the school buildings full of athletes in summer 2012 and we’re now looking forward to the first students arriving at Chobham Academy in September 2013.