project case study

Priestmead Primary School and Nursery

A question of listening and logistics

When it comes to school design, the best place to put a new school building is usually where the existing one already sits. At Priestmead School, a three-form entry primary, our task was to create a masterplan while keeping the current school in operation. The scheme posed a significant logistical challenge to keep both staff and pupils safe while progressing the delivery of a new school building. We were appointed by the contractor to deliver a workable masterplan in just 7 weeks. But we soon realised that the initial control option scheme, developed by the authority, wouldn’t meet the vision of the headteacher of the school.

Listening to what really matters

We embarked on a fast-track process to develop several layout options offering different solutions that met the school’s ultimate vision and budget. Stakeholder engagement meetings were held with parties including the Department of Education, the local authority, the education trust and the students themselves. We used rapid optioneering techniques such as diagrams and simple building models to refine our mix of options to bring the special spaces that they wanted. A key part of our listening process involved us asking the client the right questions to ascertain how they really used their buildings from how they worked with the community to how the circulation worked.

Fast-tracking the design process

To keep to the tight timeframe at the start of each meeting we would relay back what was said and outline solutions.  Each weekly meeting would begin with us repeating back what the client had said previously before moving on.  To achieve the fast-track programme, we had to bring all parties on the journey of understanding the impacts and ramifications of every decision they made. We never put our pens down and were always listening and iterating.  Mediums we used included big drawings and printouts so everyone could get around the table, discuss and hear different perspectives on the project.  We also used virtual reality, and simple foam models to give an idea of scale and massing.

The project was like solving a complicated jigsaw puzzle where we had to satisfy the requirements of all parties including the Department for Education with their pre-defined cost – per sq metre calculations and what that could cover.

A playful outcome

Our chosen 3-storey solution tiptoed sympathetically around the existing school buildings.  The students really wanted a design that maximised the playspace that worked around the existing building that was being knocked down. Our carefully crafted solution catered for the different year groups by paying close attention to the contractors’ construction logistics and sequencing, student circulation spaces and they interacted with the playspace.  Passive supervision, efficiently travelling around the school. Our design also always ensured there was a continuous connection from the building with the outdoor space.

Year 2017

Sector Education

Location Harrow, London, UK

Client Department for Education

Value £8.5m

Scale 4100sqm

Notes 4 FE / new build