Tell us about the early design brief
The Chobham Academy is sited at the top of the central axis of Stratford City, part of the Athletes’ Village. The school will include a sixth form, upper and middle phase, a primary school, plus a children’s centre and nursery.
The brief asked for environmental sustainability and practice to be evident in the design, as these would form part of the curriculum, and so biodiverse habitats and ecologically rich zones are integral to the campus design. The brief also stipulated grounds that would continue the educational vision for Chobham Academy by providing external spaces that support the specialisms of performing arts and English.
What inspired your design concept?
Our intention was to bring the woodland habitats of Waltham Forest into Stratford City, forming an ecology transect across the site from a forest at the front, through islands of regenerating woodland, green roofs, wildflower and grassland habitats, to wetland forest at the railway line boundary. The sustainable approach was continued with green roofs, wildflower grassland roofs and scree / cliff roofs.
The public realm also integrates this approach with sustainable transport: the route to the school has a wide pavement for children cycling and walking to school, with stepped gabion walls for playing and sitting.
What design challenges did you face along the way?
The brownfield site is on land raised using excavated spoil from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link tunnel works and is bounded by a railway line and Temple Mill Lane, so our challenge for the design was to provide a suitable environment for education. The solution was to feature planting that would reduce noise levels and create a new urban forest around the school.
A more focused challenge was the need to create play space for such a wide range of ages, from babies to teenagers. This was achieved by creating a fence-free playground that uses playthings that define space and uses by different age groups.
What are the lasting benefits of your design?
Ecology and sports legacy: the academy has extensive sports facilities on the school grounds and within the adjacent Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) site, including several multi-use games areas and sports pitches. The MOL sports ground is accessed by a pedestrian footbridge that links the first floor of the specialism building to a forested landform that shelters the MOL land from the road. Scots pines and wet woodlands also form shelterbelts for the school grounds, with a growing willow wall on the eastern boundary to the railway.
What aspect of the project are you most proud of?
Involving young people in their environment and creating spaces that encourage children to respect ecology and understand the principles of sustainability: the Chobham Academy is a new way forward for play within schools, with playgrounds for different age groups that are not divided by enclosures.