Evelyn Grace Academy by Zaha Hadid Architects 08.08.11

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Maths and sport are the specialities of the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton, south London. So it makes a lot of sense that the school's new premises should be designed by Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), given the firm's longstanding fascination with geometry and movement. The project is ZHA's first school and its first major building in London.

Every aspect of the school is driven by its tiny inner-city site. Facilities for 1,200 pupils are squeezed into just 1.4ha between two main roads, with a conservation area on one side and a rubbish truck depot on the other. The school takes pains to unite this disparate urban fabric, "stitching it up, if you like", says project director Lars Teichmann, an associate at ZHA.

A straight running track bisects the site, linking the school's two public entrances. Over this central axis vaults the school's main building, a four-storey zigzag of glass, steel, concrete and urgent acute angles.

Inside the main building are, in effect, four smaller schools, outlined on the facade by the flashy steel detailing. These four segments meet around a glazed shared space containing common halls and dining areas. But each of the mini-schools has its own entrance and internal circulation. "We didn't want to create a situation where the kids had to constantly cross over and use a lot of staircases," says Teichmann. "Normally these vertical circulation areas are where the problems like bullying occur, so we tried to avoid these spaces."

The school opens at an auspicious time, with the UK in the throes of a debate over whether architects really add much value to education buildings. After two years in temporary accommodation, Evelyn Grace's pupils have only occupied the new buildings for a short time, but Teichmann says they are already feeling the benefits.

"They feel that they are worth being treated well," he says – a valuable feature, as Brixton is one of the capital's most deprived areas and many of the children come from troubled backgrounds. "It's about giving them a grown-up space, to offer them an environment that is giving them alternatives," Teichmann adds. "These kids are picking up completely different behaviour: it completely changes how they are. In the two years that we have known them the transformation is unbelievable."

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Image

Luke Hayes

 

Words

William Wiles

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It's about giving them a grown-up space, to offer them an environment that is giving them alternatives

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