Work has started on John McAslan + Partners' transformation of Darwen Vale High School in Blackburn. When completed in summer 2012, the project will create a new campus for the 1200-place community school, sensitively merging the existing grammar school with a new 8000m2 contemporary building.
The new three-storey structure is located behind the original 1930s grammar school building and was conceived as a bold, fluid form that partially wraps around the existing structure. By demolishing a group of tired buildings and replacing them with this new structure, the school will consolidate its building stock, bringing together a previously disparate campus.
The mass of the new building has remained sensitive to the scale of the existing structures on the site. The materials used were selected based on their relationship to the existing grammar school building as well as their durability, low maintenance and the project's sustainability targets.
The retention of the 1930's E-shaped school building, now the only significant surviving inter-war building in Darwen, is an important part of the scheme. The grammar school frontage continues to dominate the site, representing Darwen Vale's continuous history of excellence in education. Important spaces in this high quality building, such as the library, will be retained as part of the new scheme.
Key to the design's success is transforming the way that pupils learn. A new typology, driven by Blackburn with Darwen Local Education Authority's desire for cross-curricular and group-based learning, will see the new school building divided into four learning environments: STEM (for science), Communicate (languages), Create (arts) and Transition (an area for year seven students). The new tiered building is designed to create flow between these different zones and to encourage collaboration between disciplines. Teaching areas are interlinked through communal spaces that encourage peer-led learning and create a more flexible school where zones can expand depending upon future needs.
The landscape design was conceived in close consultation with the school and pupils to create high quality external teaching areas tailored to the needs of each learning environment. For example, a hands-on, outside area next to STEM will provide opportunities for outdoor experimentation, whilst outdoor performances can take place in the amphitheatre next to Communicate.
Sustainability was at the heart of the project, which will achieve a BREEAM "Excellent" score when completed and a significantly low carbon emissions output. In recognition of the school's engineering specialism, the design encompasses a wide variety of environmental criteria, including a wind turbine and biomass boiler to regenerate energy. The landscape and building roofs will contain a number of habitat areas that promote biodiversity; allotments and bee hives give students and members of the community the opportunity to produce their own food.
JMP's design incorporates new sport facilities, including a fitness suite, sports hall and upgraded pitches and courts. These facilities will be open to the public both during and outside of school hours, building on the school's already strong community cohesion. The school will be carefully zoned to ensure the security and well being of pupils whilst making the site more inviting to the local community.
JMP's scheme achieved a score of over 80% when assessed against the innovative Education Facilities Effectiveness Instrument (EFEI) criteria, which rates a school design on its ability to support education. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) also backed the scheme, praising the relationship between the existing grammar school building and new structure.
Tony Skipper, Managing Director of John McAslan + Partners, said: "We are delighted to be working on such a significant project for both the school and the local community. Darwen Vale draws upon the practice's experience of creating transformational learning environments and our track record of reinvigorating buildings that are in need of a new lease of life. Importantly, the new design responds to the school's educational aspirations whilst also preserving important elements of its heritage."
The project is a result of a collaboration between Blackburn with Darwen and Bolton Local Education Partnership (LEP) and Blackburn with Darwen Council's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project team, with partners Balfour Beatty and JMP as architects.
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