New Academy takes shape in Chelsea

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An innovative new Academy, being created in the heart of Chelsea by Wates Construction, is on its way towards completion this summer. 

The Academy is sponsored by the London Diocesan Board for Schools and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.  The project includes a five storey tower block, 2/3 storey accommodation centre and a Sports Hall blocks. The Academy fills the entire site footprint and every inch of space has had to be carefully considered to ensure maximum efficiency.  This has resulted in unique features such as the roof tops being used as play areas.  When finished the school will provide facilities for up to 810 students in Y7-11 and a further 250 places for sixth form study across the Borough. 

The Academy

The school’s premises are in Lots Road, a short distance from the King’s Road in Chelsea.   Designed to meet the needs of a 21st century school, within the constraints of an urban environment, the project has a number of unique features. 

The school includes a five storey tower block with a glass walled staircase, 2/3 storey general teaching centre, a theatre, a full-size sports hall and an activities hall with climbing wall.  As the Academy fills the entire site footprint, every inch of space has had to be carefully considered to ensure maximum efficiency.  This has resulted in a number of unique features such as the roof tops being used as social areas, a football pitch and tennis court. 

The Academy’s specialism is in the sciences and this means specialist science facilities have been incorporated into the build.  This includes a sports science centre, an earth sciences laboratory and a medical sciences laboratory.  There are also plans in the future for a rooftop observatory.

When finished the school will provide facilities for up to 810 students in Y7-11 and a further 250 places for sixth form study across the Borough. 

Passive supervision 

Building within the constraints of a confined space has not only provided opportunities for creative solutions to the basic design of the building but also to its functionality. In particular consideration has gone into the way the functionality of the building can best enhance the teaching environment. 

The challenge of overcoming a gloomy interior as a result of building on such a small footprint has resulted in a solution to ensure interior spaces are permeated by as much natural light as possible. The main central staircase has an outer wall made from glass and full height windows have been strategically placed along corridors and classrooms allowing light to flood in from all angles. 

This is not only an important feature of the buildings basic design it also helps enhance the teaching environment encouraging teachers to use ‘passive supervision’ using the interior windows as a means to monitor students in nearby classrooms and corridors. Along with the open plan and unisex toilets the use of passive supervision helps to discourage bullying and bad behaviour. 

Technical challenges

The  project  includes  an  underground, double height main  hall,  sports  hall  and  associated  changing  room  facilities  and  plant  rooms.  To  construct  these  a  very specialist ‘secant  piled  wall’  was  used  with  a  heavily  reinforced  capping  beam  and  temporary  props  to  allow  excavation. The  secant  wall  is  heavily  reinforced  and  in  the  final  building  acts  as  a  cantilever  with  lateral  restraint  provided  at  the  lower  ground  floor  level.

Major challenges lay beneath the ground on this project – an underground power station opposite the site, a large sewer beneath and high hydrostatic pressure from the nearby Thames all added to the complexity of the construction challenge, and demanded careful programming and sensitive negotiation to minimise disruption to the local community.

Logistics were also a major consideration for a project where the building footprint takes up the entire site, and is surrounded by dense residential areas.  The team has therefore had to adapt the “normal” building processes to ensure there is enough room on site for all the necessary equipment. 

Building a sustainable school

When first considering the building of a new school a key part of the design process is to understand the need for sustainable solutions.  After all, education and sustainability are two issues that are very closely linked.  A school needs not only to be sustainable in terms of providing a building that will last for generations, but ensure construction methods are employed that in the long term will reduce energy bills for the school and help students to understand the importance of reducing our carbon consumption.

For instance, windows have been effectively used to allow more light into the building, reducing the need for artificial lighting.  The Academy has also incorporated the use of exposed concrete to act as a thermal store and minimise energy use for heating and cooling. 

The building is also not only extremely energy-efficient, but 10 per cent of its energy will come from renewables generated on site through ground source heat pumps.

Building community support for The Academy

In such a close residential environment, close communication with the local community has been essential in minimising disruption and building support for the project. The Wates team distribute newsletters on a regular basis, hold information meetings and contribute to the Academy website, to demonstrate progress and explain forthcoming stages.

Wates was awarded 38 points on the Considerate Contractors scheme – exemplary level.
Brian Sweeney – Considerate Contractors Inspector said: “This is an exemplary site. The measures taken to engage with the local community are excellent. The commitment of the site’s management to mitigate all disruption to the local community is to be commended.”

As part of Wates’ company-wide Community Day, the Wates team at the Academy offered their services to a local primary school for a day. The team refurbished an external sheltered play area, which was falling into disrepair.