Forge Valley Community School
5 November 2009
Planning reference: 09/02999/FUL
Overall design quality rating: pass
This proposal creates a positive relationship between the school and the adjacent residential area despite the challenging site constraints. Relocating the car park between the school building and the college helps achieve a design that provides generous and well-orientated external spaces that define a safe and welcoming approach for pedestrians, cyclists, enterprise practitioners and members of the community. Given some modifications, this could become an excellent school.
Although the school relates well to the immediate topography, the building design does not yet convey an inspirational, new place for teaching and learning. The entrance is not clearly visible from the pedestrian approach and the prominent eastern elevation lacks clarity. The elevations, while rational, do not yet clearly express the interlocking building form. The materials palette is appropriate to Sheffield’s climate and local resources, but the quantity of materials together with the varied roof forms do not create a coherent whole and weaken its presence in the dramatic Loxley Valley landscape. The position of the double-height dining hall takes advantage of the panoramic views into the valley, but may lead to noise and odours in the central atrium which should be addressed as the design develops. Integrating covered space for outdoor dining and other activities would be beneficial given the northern orientation.
The design of the atrium is vital to the building’s success, and with some improvements could become an uplifting and practical learning environment at the heart of the school. The roof cowls support the delivery of natural ventilation and light into the atrium, although this space lacks a sense of orientation that engages with the school’s setting and fine views. The internal layout defines the lecture hall as an identifiable architectural form, but the open plan library will require careful acoustic treatment to prevent noise transfer from adjacent activities. The clearly articulated balconies and stairwells provide inherent passive supervision, but the single lift does not seem sufficient given the number of users. The small meeting rooms disrupt views to the west and reduce natural light in the double-loaded corridors. The internal science labs are not set to be comfortable spaces for teaching and learning. Breakout spaces within the classroom block could be a useful resource for future adaptability, although the building’s potential for other educational models is limited by the plan. The environmental strategy, supported by generous ceiling heights, is sound in principal but will require further testing to ensure a suitable and sustainable school building.