A New School

I’ve been away for awhile…sorry about that.

Anyway, in a earlier post I talked about the Evelyn Grace Academy, a new school in the Brixton area of London. It actually won a prestigious architectural prize recently. But, we have a new school in our area which I regularly drive past and I thought it would be worth showing it off.

Educational buildings have evolved in recent years – they used to be very generic blocky buildings – institutional and of often poor design. Not much natural light, rough ergonomics and design to herd children from one classroom to the next with the least fuss possible.

A few years ago when we all had money (remember that?) and we didn’t know that the entire world financial system was a massive Ponzi Scheme the previous government decided that all primary and secondary schools should be rebuilt over 10 years. Quite an undertaking given that there are 21,398 primary schools and a further 3951 secondary schools altogether serving 9,000,000 pupils. Unfortunately the economy collapse and the government was swiftly dispatched from office and a new one formed in its place with rather more fiscally conservative policies, but not before a fair few new school buildings were finished.

This school in Ipswich is actually a Sixth Form, which is a school that deals with the last two years of secondary education (years 12 and 13, ages 17 and 18) – they’re often separate or semi-seperate from the main secondary schools as firstly, they’re not compulsory and secondly they offer a really wide variety of academic and more vocational subjects.

Its original name was the South West Ipswich and South Suffolk Sixth Form Centre, but thats a bloody big mouthful so its instead called ‘One’. Strange name for a school, but have a look inside…

Main entrance and reception area

A rather swish looking science lab

Yep - this is a proper recording studio - and yes thats a Mac Pro

Not enough Apple goodness in the last picture? Here, have a whole mouthful of Apple.

Nice informal corridor and learning spaces

A sports science suite thats better than the gym I pay a small fortune to belong to

Design and Technology


A mock up ward for Allied Health Professions and Beauty Therapy (whatever that is?)


Food technology kitchens - a step up from McDonalds at least

So we’re up to our eyeballs in sovereign debt, but we do have some fairly decent stuff to show for it. It did cost £50million which is rather a lot, nice curved wood panelling though and it seems a shame to let the kids near it…


Queensgate Shopping Centre – Peterborough

Alot of the posts up to this point have focussed on examples of various different types of really good design. Now I have an example of really quite nasty design.

Herald the Queensgate Shopping Centre in Peterborough. I spent 1.5 hours chugging through the countryside on the train today because the government has kindly put the nearest Identity and Passport Services office outside London about as far away from anyone as possible. In fairness I did get seen pretty quick (only a 10 minute wait), but the chap processing my passport did launch into a rather strong interrogation. I’d obviously sparked his suspicions because I’d left my postcode off the application form by accident and I wanted the passport couriered to my work address. In fact, as (apparently) my photographs look quite different he then wanted to see my drivers licence which of course I didn’t have. Hold up – you’re the government – can’t you have a look at my drivers licence on your computer… turns out that they can, why stress me out? He had a stack of red cards that I am sure mark you for execution or something. But I digress…..

Because the trains are at annoying intervals between Ipswich and Peterborough I had to leave at 12 for a 3 o’clock appointment then after about 15 minutes in the office I had to hang around until 5.45. Key Ros who heroically took the afternoon off to escort me to the frightening government offices – girl + boyfriend + time = shopping (or at least window shopping). So off we went to the Queensgate Shopping Centre.

This place is a cathedral to the 1980’s. Its sort of been designed to fit into an irregular vacant plot in the town centre – now this could be done in a stylish and well thought out way – but alas not, its a central cavern with corridors splaying out like an octopus. Its also absurdly car centric, its right in the middle of the town at the centre of all public transport but it has a 3500 space car park tacked on the end, thereby encouraging huge volumes of cars into the city centre. Its 5 minutes from a train station that has quite incredible connections (Liverpool, all destinations to Glasgow, Manchester, London, Ipswich, Norwich and stansted airport) but theres no well defined pedestrian access from the train station (actually the train station is another design disaster, but that’s another story).

So what makes it a paragon of 1980’s design? Well its mostly clad in cheap looking cream marble, the shop facades are surrounded with high mirror shine steel, there are lots of mirrors, and there’s no natural light outside the main atrium.

On the plus side it has a fine selection of shops including a John Lewis, a Superdry and decent sized Topshop/man combo and a pretty big Republic – not to mention the usual favourites like Schuh and Paperchase.

I can’t resist including a picture of Peterborough Railway Station. Try not to vomit.


PS – Apologies to any Peterborugh-ians that might be reading – the rest of your city is really quite nice.









Evelyn Grace

Who is Evelyn Grace? Actually I have no idea, not even the wikipedia knows. What I do know however is that Evelyn Grace Academy is a new school, built in a relatively deprived area of inner-London (Brixton to be precise) with a large and historically under-achieving black and other ethnic minority population.

Why is it on my radar? The building happens to up for this years Stirling Prize for Architecture.

Designed by British architect Zaha Hadid its a sweeping ‘Z’ shaped structure with masses of glass and steel and natural light. It is an aspirational building designed inspire aspiration in an often over-looked group.

The sweeping curves and angles really do it for me, and I wish I went to that school!! Take some time to bask in the glory of it….

Whats the lesson here? I think its treat kids with enough respect to provide them with decent surrounds and environs and they’ll develop a sense of pride in their school and vicariously in themselves. Hopefully.

A potted history of the Willis, Faber and Dumas Building

In Ipswich there’s a building that looks like a giant black grand piano.

It was one of the first buildings designed by the much celebrated architect Lord Foster (Norman). Built in the 1970’s actually quite an important building because it was the first building ever to be clad entirely in glass without the panels being in a frame. The beautiful towers of glass that are now commonplace are based on this pioneering design.

Why do I like it?

  • First off, its somewhat satisfying that the amazing cityscapes of the worlds megacities owe something of their design lineage to a building in a small parochial town in Suffolk.
  • Even though it would seem to be totally out of place amongst an historic town centre, in fact, its reflective glass mirrors the old buildings that surround it.
  • Its shaped to fit exactly within its irregular plot and so doesn’t breakup the flow of the street plan or look like a ‘carbuncle’

PS its also much prettier than the hideous square tower in the background which has now fortunately been demolished.

Images nabbed from wikipedia. 

Urban Planning Problem – Blackfriars Station

So you work for Network Rail and need to dramatically increase capacity at Blackfriars station. Space around you is extremely limited. You can’t dig down because they’re busy building a new underground station for Crossrail. You can’t build up because, well, its a railway and trains don’t like inclines.

You are near the river though.

Answer: You build the station on the actual approach bridge itself. Ingenious.

It utilises previously ‘dead’ space for the platforms and thereby saves space on the ground for the ticketing concourse etc. It also allows for much longer trains.

Looks swish doesn’t it?

Its an example of a bit of ‘thinking outside the box’ thats resulted in actually a far more elegant solution than could have been envisaged previously.

Lets get this show on the road… The Shard – London

The first thing I wanted to talk about was a new building in London called ‘The Shard’. I saw a news article about it several years ago and thought it looked cool, but then the recession came along and I guess I assumed that it had been cancelled.

Wrong. I was in London a few months ago and there it was, half built, half glazed, but there nevertheless.

London is building together quite an eclectic mix of skyscrapers and I know there are some people who believe that thecity should be preserved as it was in the 1900’s and part of me agrees. Another part (a bigger part) enjoys seeing new stuff jutting up against old stuff, especially when it looks this cool. Of course, the Tower Bridge/Tower of London area is a world heritage site so sticking in a giant steel oblong would have been a mistake, but a giant spire is a different thing altogether – after all London is covered with spires from the hundreds of beautiful churches and for a long time these comprised the skyline of the capital and so weirdly, even though its 10 times taller than everything around it, a giant glass spire doesn’t look out of place. It actually looks like a cathedral, albeit a cathedral to money and wealth rather than God.

Secondly, (and more importantly) when I was younger I’m pretty sure I was promised cityscapes of gleaming glass in interesting shapes (on Mars) and this is as close as we can get!

I’m keen to know what others think – or if anyone has an examples of neat architecture from where they live please comment. More pictures can be found at the official project website.