With punched windows and a pitched roof capped by chimneys, Walters & Cohen Architects’ addition to an East London elementary school recalls the archetypal house as it might be drawn by a child. This expression is doubly appropriate: the two-story building slots politely into a row of 19th-century houses on the southern edge of the school’s site, and its familiar, domestic character offers reassurance to young children.

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Sandringham Primary School’s main building makes a more imposing civic statement. Constructed in red brick, it is typical of the 400 buildings put up in London after the advent of compulsory education in the late 1800s. With three lofty stories and steep gabled roofs adorned by lanterns, it towers above its neighbors. According to principal Robert Cleary, the school was built to accommodate around 400 children but now has over 1,000 on its roll and, despite the addition of several single-story structures in the yard, needed to create room for further expansion.

Walters & Cohen was originally appointed to conduct a feasibility study into the provision of additional teaching space on the school’s compact site, which occupies slightly less than two acres. Having established that the large, light-filled Victorian classrooms were working well for general teaching needs, the architects proposed that a new building could accommodate a self-contained preschool for 3-to5-year-olds, and provide purpose-made spaces for art, music, and drama for the older children. Such facilities are unusual in London’s public elementary schools, but they reflect Sandringham’s ethos. The school has a focus on the development of personal communication skills, says Cleary, and “for me, it’s also really important that children have an amazing experience of the arts.”

Architect Michál Cohen notes that the school’s pupils “generally don’t come from advantaged backgrounds, so it has to teach the whole of the child.” This means not only providing access to cultural activities and resources but also considering the ways in which the environment might promote the development of social and life skills. There is an educational purpose to circulation routes that allow children to observe other students of different ages, or spaces that promote sharing or negotiation between users.

The new building, Sandringham Central, has an L-shaped plan and wraps around a small yard. On the first floor, the preschool’s two large classrooms have full-height glazing and direct access to the play space. From its entrance on the street, large windows are aligned with internal glazing to allow views through the classrooms and into the yard. Creating a sense of openness was intended to signify that the building belongs to the community, says principal Cleary. “It took a while for staff to get used to, but it’s good for parents to see children happily engaged in learning.”

Young children in the play area can see older students making their way to the arts studios via a broad staircase that ascends from the main schoolyard. The steps double as seating for outdoor assemblies. With a tight site and budget, “every single space has more than one use,” says Cohen.

A variety of inexpensive finishes gives each studio space a distinct character. The art room is white, while the music room is lined in warm birch plywood, and the dance space has a mirrored wall. Though the height of the building’s eaves is matched to that of adjacent houses, the sloping ceilings rise higher, to 18 feet, and the volume lends grandeur to the modestly-sized rooms.

The architects’ concern for children’s sensory experience is evident. In designing schools, the priority is to “get the learning environment right, in terms of good daylight and natural ventilation,” says Cohen, and the rooms are flooded with top- and sidelight. An acoustician was also consulted. “It is always difficult to judge the right amount of absorption in music spaces for children,” says Cohen. “Not enough and it’s noisy; too much and you kill the atmosphere completely.”

Despite the lively activity on both floors, a relaxed atmosphere pervades the building. This is remarkable, given its size and intensity of use: the introductory level for the youngest students, for example, takes 60 children in the morning and another 60 in the afternoon, with each arrival and departure attended by scores of parents. Generous circulation routes, with spaces to gather and wait, play a part, as does the clarity of the building’s material character.

On the south-facing street elevation, the facade and roof are clad in gray standing-seam zinc with tidy joints. Windowsills and recessed gutters are fashioned from the same material, lending a tailored quality. Lime green reveals at the windows give a sense of depth to the facade and add some panache to the otherwise sober garb, like the flash of a vivid lining in a bespoke business suit.

“Keep it simple” was the watchword of the project, says Michál Cohen. Given the complexity of the program and the constraints of the site, that simplicity is the project’s strength.



Walters & Cohen Architects, 2 Wilkin Street, London NW5 3NL, UK, ++44 20 7428 9751, www.waltersandcohen.com


Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:

Michàl Cohen RIBA, Rob Hill RIBA, Elena Garcia Gomez, Ulrike Kurth

Architect of record:

Walters & Cohen Architects, 2 Wilkin Street, London NW5 3NL, UK, ++44 20 7428 9751, www.waltersandcohen.com



Structural Engineers: engineers HRW

Environmental / M&E Engineers: P3r Engineers and Bannermann Consulting Engineers LTD

Structural and Civil Engineers: Ben Segeth Associates



Quantity Surveyor / Cost Consultant: Fanshawe LLP and Lakehouse Contracts LTD

Acoustic Engineers: MACH Acoustics

CDM Advisory Services: Playle & Partners

Landscape Architects: Wynne-Williams Associates


General contractor:

Lakehouse Contracts LTD.



Dennis Gilbert / View Pictures


Structural System
Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project: Steel frame structure.

Exterior Cladding
Masonry: Aldbury Multi Stock Brick: Wienerberger AG
Rainscreen: Standing Seam Zinc cladding: VMZink UK
EIFS, ACM, or other: Insulated Render: JUB Systems UK
Moisture barrier: various manufacturers, unknown due to contract type (Design & Build)

Elastomeric: Sika-Trocal Single Ply roofing system: Sika LTD
Metal: Standing Seam Zinc roofing: VMZinc UK

Wood frame: Hybrid Glazing System: Senior Architectural Systems LTD

Glass: Sealed double-glazed glass units: Senior Architectural Systems LTD
Skylights: Sealed double-glazed glass units: Senior Architectural Systems LTD

Entrances: SD commercial doors: Senior Architectural Systems LTD
Metal doors: Louvred door sets: Sunray Engineering
Wood doors: Internal door sets: Enfield Doors
Fire-control doors, security grilles: Roller shutters: HAG
Upswinging doors, other: Sliding Folding doors: Senior Architectural Systems LTD


Locksets: Bennetts Architectural Ironmongery
Closers: Bennetts Architectural Ironmongery
Exit devices: Bennetts Architectural Ironmongery
Pulls: Bennetts Architectural Ironmongery
Security devices: Bennetts Architectural Ironmongery
Other special hardware: Bennetts Architectural Ironmongery

Interior Finishes
Acoustical ceilings: Rigitone 8-15-20: British Gypsum LTD
Suspension grid: British Gypsum LTD
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Fitted cabinetwork: Ballen Panels
Paints and stains: Dulux Trade Paints
Paneling: Birch Plywood paneling
Floor and wall tile: Prismatic: Johnson Tiles
Resilient flooring: Solid Oak strip flooring: Junckers LTD
Carpet: Tivoli carpet tiles: Burmatex
Special interior finishes unique to this project: Playkitchen Worktops: Corian and Trespa

Office furniture: Fitted desk and shelving: Ballen Panels
Fixed seating: Fitted window seating: Ballen Panels
Chairs: client’s own
Tables: client’s own
Other furniture: Under 2 provision furniture: Community Playthings

Interior ambient lighting: Whitecroft Lighting
Downlights: Whitecroft Lighting
Tasklighting: Whitecroft Lighting
Exterior: Whitecroft Lighting
Dimming system or other lighting controls: PIR controlled lighting

Elevators/escalators: Platform Lift: Precision Lift Services LTD

Accessibility provisions: Level thresholds throughout

Sanitary Ware: Armetage Shanks / Ideal Standard
Wash troughs: Lovair

Energy management or building automation system: CO2 sensor-controlled ventilation system
Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: Roof Stack Ventilators: Monodrought
Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project: The entire building is naturally ventilated with heat recovery systems fitted.