Extensive options appraisals and feasibility studies were carried out, before the decision was taken to locate the new school on land adjacent to the original school. After completion of the new buildings, the original school was partially demolished and the remainder was retained for use by Northampton Borough Council. Although there was limited consultation with the local community, the attendance at meetings was poor.
The plan of the building has developed from the organisation of the school, which is based on a series of faculties, such as ‘global citizenship’ and ‘humanities’. Each faculty is housed in a separate block, and these accommodate vertical ‘houses’ of 250 pupils each (ie a cross section of all age ranges), named after local heroes. One of the key design principles was to create good visual connections between all the different parts of the school, and this led to the decision to group the faculty blocks around a courtyard with a corridor running around its perimeter at first floor level. The corridor has extensive glazing looking into the courtyard, making the building easy to navigate, and assisting with supervision.
The designers decided to open out the faculty blocks in a ‘V’ formation to ease pupil circulation, as well as using them to bring light into the centre of the blocks. They have also provided seating in the central spaces of each block.
The shape of the courtyard was defined by the route of the first floor corridor and bridges linking the blocks. At ground level the courtyard is enclosed by an arcade that runs under the edge of each of the blocks, separated from the central space by circular steel columns. The detailed design of the courtyards was developed to provide circulation routes across it and sitting areas, by utilising the level changes from the west to east. The landscape architects worked closely with Feilden Clegg Bradley to establish a fully integrated design of soft and hard landscaping. The design also uses the ‘faculty gardens’ between each block to allow a direct interplay with the wider landscape beyond the school.
The dining hall was located immediately adjacent to the main school entrance, and looks out to the courtyard, to form a hub to the school. It is also used to provide the primary vertical and horizontal circulation routes within the building, and changes in levels are used to create a dramatic space which is emphasised by large circular rooflights.
The design team selected a reinforced concrete structure for most of the building, exposed internally to provide thermal mass. The larger spaces, such as the sports and multi-purpose halls, have a steel frame and are clad in timber rather than masonry.
The design developed through regular project meetings that brought together the key stakeholders – the head and staff from the school, the sponsor, the former DfES and the design team. There was no consultation between the design teams and pupils, although there were a few presentations to the school by the architects on the design process, including question and answer sessions.
The sponsor appointed their own project manager, as well as a client representative. The construction project management was carried out by the quantity surveyor as a separate appointment.