Northampton Academy has its various functions arranged clearly in separate, but linked blocks. The circulation spaces around the courtyard make it easy to find your way around. Fingers of landscape reaching in towards the centre of the complex help the building to integrate with the attractive woodland setting on its northern side. The main entrance is less successful as it is dominated the car-parking. The location of the car-park was no doubt dictated by complex site planning, involving the creation a new access road and retention of some of the original building as Council offices. The stepped courtyard in the centre of the complex is not ideal for people with disabilities. It is also unsuitable for pupils wishing to run about or play football and as a consequence an additional play area has been constructed behind the sports wing.
Most of the building has excellent daylighting and natural ventilation. High levels of insulation and careful selection of materials make it a highly sustainable building. A heavyweight concrete structure gives it good thermal mass, while a sophisticated ventilation system allows night time cooling of the structure in summer, helping to reduce temperatures in hot weather. One drawback is that the system requires skilled operation, but the designers have made considerable efforts to ensure this by means of regular visits to explain its workings to the staff.
Many of the roofs are sedum, helping to create biodiversity as well as boosting thermal mass. The drainage systems have been designed to recycle rainwater and hold it back during extreme rainfall in order to reduce peak drainage loads. The extensive use of timber panelling externally helps to give a naturalistic appearance, creating a particularly attractive appearance to the central courtyard.
Although the brief for the building was fairly conventional, sticking mainly to the DfES Building Bulletin 98 model, there has been an attempt to provide flexibility through provision of break-out spaces within the circulation areas, and by putting folding partitions between a few of the classrooms. Classrooms are relatively small, with the aim of keeping class sizes down to 25 or 26. The ICT classroom has innovative, raked seating, meaning it can either be used like a lecture theatre or, if students face the other way they can use PCs. The breakout spaces have been reasonably successful, and are used for whole classes as well as for private study during breaks. However, the provision of computers in these unsupervised areas has created a security problem. Generally, the design avoids using corridors and instead a high level of transparency throughout the building makes it relatively easy to supervise.
However, a lack of storage space has caused problems, particularly for examination desks, while staff accommodation both centrally and within the classroom blocks.
The Academy replaces two schools that were failing their pupils, and the fact that there were 650 applicants for 250 places in 2007 is an indication of the high regard the local community now have for it. GCSE results are improving strongly from a very low base. The school has introduced a new culture of respect and identity, and the new building and uniform have helped to reinforce this. The one aspect of the design that has been less well received is the open plan dining area, located in a sunken area at the heart of the main circulation core of the school. Because it has no clear threshold and students can enter from several directions, while,other students can see into it from surrounding balconies, the school finds monitoring and supervising behaviour there problematic. They would have preferred a separate space, designed to be more easily managed.