Corten-clad: Link Old and New

Stoke Newington School & Sixth Form is a successful inner city secondary school with specialism in the Media Arts and Science. The primary focus of the Hackney BSF project was to upgrade the existing 1960’s building to comply with current standards required for education delivery. The final scope of the project included the construction of two principal new built elements on the site – a new Dining Hall, and a new entrance building. The new entrance building is characterised by Corten steel cladding panels considered to have sufficient robustness and gravitas to sit comfortably alongside the red brick and bush-hammered concrete of the existing building.  After two years of work Stoke Newington School is perfectly on operation. Nicola Desiderio, editor in chief of, has met with Jude Harris and Alex Gordon of Jestico + Whiles Architects, the architects of the project, to know more about the architectural and building aspects of the project.


© Tim Crocker l Stoke Newington School & Sixth Form, view from Clissold Road.

Nicola Desiderio Jestico and Whiles is a practice that covers the main fields of architectural design. Could you please tell us about your company?

Jude Harris & Alex Gordon Jestico + Whiles is an established practice of architects and interior designers based in London and Prague.  We have completed major projects throughout Europe, the Middle East and India. We have proven expertise for excellent and sustainable designs across a wide range of sectors, including universities, schools, hotels, housing, cultural facilities, offices, transport infrastructures and retail, many within schemes involving major urban regeneration, refurbishment of historic buildings or low energy designs. We have received over 100 national and international awards for our architecture and interior design. Acclaim for the quality of our work, our imaginative solutions to challenging briefs, and our professionalism in delivering substantial projects on time and to budget, place us at the forefront of the industry. We are concerned first and foremost with people, in our work and in our workplace. This commitment has been recognised, not just through design awards, but in specialist categories such as the Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For and the Architects Journal Employer of the Year awards.

We simply enjoy design. And we love to share our enthusiasm by creating great working relationships and buildings of excellence and enduring quality. Jestico + Whiles operate from its own successful mixed-use development in Euston and have additional design and production offices in Prague. The practice has completed award winning buildings throughout Europe as well as China and India. The practice is a Trust, run for the benefit of the staff. There are 4 Directors, 6 Associate Directors and 6 Associates. The practice has the expertise, experience and resources to deliver a wide range of projects across many sectors. Our approach is pragmatic, searching and professional, placing us at the forefront of innovation within the industry. What we bring to our projects is ‘an approach’ – a way of working that is equally applicable to all projects regardless of their diversity in scope, scale and budget. Each project is approached with the same challenging mind and the same careful, consistent approach and thorough attention to detail, no matter how small or large.


 © Jestico + Whiles Architects l Stoke Newington School & Sixth Form, the Corten-clad entrance building and the existing complex.

ND Stoke Newington School is in the middle of a quite unique urban area, which includes the “old” parish church (16th Century) and the “new” one, St Mary Church, by George Gilbert Scott (1858); the boiler house of the school complex by Stillman and Eastwick-Field (1964); the “repaired” Clissold Leisure Centre; the existing Victorian crescent and the post-war council blocks. How does the new intervention dialogue with these architectural realities?
JH&AG The CorTen building is the only visible element of the redevelopment to the street frontage (except window replacement). The aim is to relate first and foremost to the surrounding Brutalist architecture of the existing school, then to varied context of the surrounding neighbourhood. The combination of the church spire, the dominant chimney to the boiler house and the horizontal language of the new building created an interesting composition of planes and forms. CorTen material does however relate not only to robust materials of the existing schools’ surroundings, but to the creative media arts specialism of the school, and Stoke Newington’s creative and evolving history as an inner city neighbourhood.


© Tim Crocker l Stoke Newington School & Sixth Form, the entrance building and the courtyard.

ND The CorTen-clad entrance building is – without any doubt – the linguistic “hinge” between the old and the new architectural elements above and, at the same time, the building that gives personality to the entire complex. Can you tell us if, during the design phases, did you think of another solution and why, at the end, did you choose it? Which are the technical characteristics of this material, and how the wall package is made? Same question for the Trespa panels, used for the inner façades of the entrance building?

JH&AG The new building is a three storey structure that comprises a new main entrance to the school and thirteen large classrooms. Importantly, it also connects this teaching accommodation to the existing building, facilitating both access to and circulation around the school. Therefore this new architectural element is not only – as called by you- a linguistic “hinge” with the surrounds, but also an important functional element for the all complex. Numerous design solutions were explored in arriving at the final solution, ranging from to the continuation of the existing language, to a “neo-Brutalism” re-interpretation of this language to a totally new contemporary language comprised of predominantly glazed curtain walling. Ultimately though, the final design solution was arrived at more through an appropriate choice of material than any designed ‘solution’. The suggestion of CorTen was extremely well met by all interested parties, and ultimately the cost plan had to be made to work to achieve the chosen aesthetic. The nature of the material was considered appropriate not only to the surrounding bush-hammered concrete and brick context, but also to the nature of the building usage it was to house. As a school, the didactic qualities of the material seemed appropriate (due to the way in which the material changes as it oxidises over time), and particularly to a media arts and science specialism of the school. The bright coloured TRESPA panels were chosen as a bright contrast to the hues of the CorTen, to invite people through the undercroft into the courtyard.


ND The new complex has now comfortable facilities such as a dining hall, restrooms, a library, gyms and sports hall. How has the new scheme changed the old layout in order to update current standards required for education deliver? What did you do to improve the internal distribution for a complex that serves up to 1500 pupils? Besides, logistically speaking, how did you manage the construction schedule with the school’s operation during these two years of work?

JH&AG The project was completed in summer 2010 with students moving into the revitalised classrooms in May 2009 and June 2010 respectively, following completion of the two key redevelopment phases. Phase 1 included the northern half of the building – refurbishment of this area, and construction of the new entrance building. Phase 2 involved refurbishing the southern half of the building – including the kitchen and dining areas and the second floor link. The landscape works comprised the final phase. Temporary school accommodation was provided within the existing school campus which meant there was no requirement for the school to go off site. The practice’s approach was a direct response to the challenges faced by the school as a result of its poor building layout. New clearly defined circulation routes present stronger visual links throughout the building whilst simultaneously improving accessibility. Teaching and learning spaces are strategically positioned to allow for transformational classroom layouts to accommodate future curricular requirements. Regarding the new layout you have to know that the old one was based on a ‘house’ system, which made horizontal circulation difficult as the school evolved. In fact students had to go down and up stairs to get from a second floor classroom in one block to one at the same level in another block. So we thought to create a horizontal link that works as distribution axis, it ensures rational circulation of the pupils and it avoids possible congestion. You have seen the timber covered bridge; it did not exist before. Originally conceived as an internal space, now is a link for all three levels of the complex that works also as an external space. The teaching and learning spaces have been equipped with modern standards. We have resized some of the existing classrooms, then we have replaced the floor finishing, the ceiling, the windows; we have introduced the acoustic panels to the ceilings, we have provided a new insulation and new lights and redecorated the walls considering the nature of the building usage.


 © Tim Crocker l Stoke Newington School & Sixth Form, the materials.

ND The existing state complex had suffered from long-term neglect, and the building required a mechanical and electrical overhaul, re-roofing and window replacement. Besides, the school suffered from poor ventilation and temperature control. The design of the school is expected to receive a BREEAM rating of ‘Good’. Can you speak about your strategy in term of innovation and sustainability adopted for this project?

JH&AG The school has been provided with a biomass boiler system as the key technology to deliver the heat input requirements of the project at very low environmental cost. The biomass boiler was selected to produce the 10% renewable energy requirement for the school because; a) it is particularly suited to a school’s energy use profile, b) the school’s iconic boiler house provided the physical space required for the boiler and the associated biomass fuel store and c) it is one of the most cost effective methods of producing renewable energy when compared with other available technologies. The biomass boiler is controlled, primarily, on the school’s hot water demand to supply toilet areas, showers and kitchens. The biomass boiler functions as the ‘lead’ boiler in all cases, primarily producing hot water via a cross plate heat exchanger and indirect high efficiency calorifiers. The heat exchanger is a functional two way interface that allows the biomass boiler to efficiently contribute ‘spare’ heat to the space heating during winter months (once the hot water demand is satisfied) while allowing the renewable source to be backed-up by more conventional gas fired boilers. Space heating is provided using a system of panel radiators within the majority of areas, with under-floor heating within the dining hall. Active cooling is limited to ICT server rooms and ICT classrooms in the form of individual direct expansion, wall-mounted cooling units. Passive cooling is incorporated, wherever possible, to all classrooms by purging the areas at night-time with cooler outside air to cool the exposed concrete structure for the proceeding day. Solar shading and glare control is achieved by means of solar control glazing (where windows are new / replaced). Additionally, internal blinds have been provided to all areas within the scheme. High performance new and replacement windows have been used to minimise thermal loss and solar gain, while unglazed areas are highly insulated to limit solar heat gain and retain naturally generated heat. The existing window openings also offer significant improvements to the building’s overall performance, with smaller easy to operate windows for controllable natural ventilation. Wherever possible, materials and furniture have been selected on the basis of low embodied energy and minimal environmental impact. The disposal of furniture and equipment from the existing sites was also a key area of consideration. Existing materials have been re-used where possible, for example, with the stairs and new ramps that have been added to improve accessibility. The existing stairs throughout the school featured timber balustrading, but these contained large, unsafe, openings within them. Jestico + Whiles closed up the openings to improve safety using reclaimed timber from old staircases which had been removed. The school is able to tap into the building’s energy management system as a learning tool, to understand where energy is being used. Monitoring these contributions from renewable energy sources (including a small scale demonstration wind turbine and photovoltaics), and understanding the carbon cycle through the use of biofuel heating system acts as a real time explanation of the issues associated with energy usage and sustainability. The Brutalist architecture of the boiler house and its open glazing also enables the services systems to be fully on show.


ND How much does the entire project cost? What was the breakdown of the budget? In addition to this, refurbishment works for education can be often more expensive than new edifications. What is your opinion about this issue, and can you give us more details in the specific of this project?

JH&AG The investment in Stoke Newington School was delivered to Hackney by a Local Education Partnership (LEP), a joint venture company consisting of a Private Sector Partner (Mouchel Babcock Education), BSF Investments LLP (on behalf of Partnerships for Schools) and Hackney Council. Capital funding from the Local Authority was based on a 10% BSFI shareholding, 10% Local Authority shareholding and 80% Private Sector Partner shareholding in respect of the Initial Capital Requirement. The total approximate construction cost was £17.3 million. The new buildings accounted for approximately £3.3m of this figure. Since we do not have access to final figures it is difficult for me to give precise data also because the intervention has been split in different levels of work to each area. The new school now covers a floor area of 13,600m² (becoming approx. 2,300m² lager than the pre BSF) of which: 15% has not been touched (theatre, the D&T area, the sixth form and the science labs); 40% was heavily remodelled (stripped back to the building shell and new partitions formed to enable the newly defined space to be re-equipped to modern standards of servicing, decoration, finishing etc); 30% was lightly refurbished (areas where existing spaces have been retained and are fully refurbished with new floor finishes, wall finishes, ceiling finishes and services); and 15% was new built (new entrance building, the Dining Hall infill to the Courtyard, and the external second floor link). Wholescale New-build was not an option for this school due to size and it was established very early in process. In any case refurbishment here was done substantially cheaper than new-build would have cost, for school of same size. With the refurbishment of existing buildings the school achieved more area than would have been possible in a new build scenario, and more teaching spaces; they also got to keep existing facilities such as theatre and two gymnasia.


© Tim Crocker l Stoke Newington School & Sixth Form, the new circulation routes.

ND The external spaces have been reorganised by Place Design & Planning, a multidisciplinary leading international planning, design and environment consultancy. How will the pupils use these spaces?

JH&AG We met the School Council and we discuss how to use the landscape and it came that the pupils asked for greater extent of seating areas, more court space, trim trail, and this is how the external space is used now. There are five courts which include netball/basketball courts. Placing the new building within the entrance forecourt has enabled the school’s physical improvements to be announced in an obvious manner at the street frontage closest to the community. Through this, a new flexible space has been created by enclosing the central courtyard. Whilst this is intended primarily for dining it can be converted for special uses such as school social events. The central courtyard is the natural heart of the school. As result of the courtyard adjacency to the science accommodation, the school saw the opportunity for a sculpture in this space which would express its interest in sustainability. This led to the creation of ‘the green cube’, a giant 8m steel frame cube in lime green which represents the volume of 1 tonne of carbon dioxide – the daily CO2 emissions of the school. This sculpture provides a central focus within the space and a discussion point for debates around energy consumption and sustainability. The school’s aspiration was for a high quality, well designed, inspirational and sustainable building which would reflect its Media, Arts and Science specialisms, as well as demonstrating its commitment to being an Extended School available for local community use. Opportunities are provided for students and adults to engage in a range of leisure, academic and vocational learning activities including the Hackney Youth Orchestra, “Active Kids” Leyton Orient Community Sports Programme, Community football teams including a Deaf Youth team, Stoke Newington Cricket Club, and a West Indian Saturday School.


ND For projects as big as a secondary school, it is very important to set an integrated approach to all stockholders involved in the project. Did you had any problem; and how did you manage it? Besides, Wilmott Dixon Construction has been the main contractor in this project. Did you work with them before?

JH&AG Jestico and Whiles have worked with WDC on other education projects. At present we are developing two new schools with the same team. One of these will be on site within a month in Stamford Hill (Hackney). BSF is a challenging process for all parties involved in it. We have had always a good relationship with the school and the contractor and it has contributed to success of schemes.


Tim Crocker l Stoke Newington School & Sixth Form, the new dining hall and the library.

ND At present, Jestico and Whiles is working on several projects on education. How has your firm been affected by the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future programme? What are the effects that the cancellation had on the building industry? Do you think it will have side effects also on the educational system in England?

JH&AG Luckily, Jestico and Whiles hasn’t been affected adversely by the cancellation of BSF; we have 11 schools on the drawing board or on site and all of them are going ahead. As you know, such decision was made by the Government in July this year, and currently there is a review on the way – that is called James Review – that is looking at the future of schools procurement in this country. The government has a spending review on the way at the moment and it will be due to announced the 20th of October. It will give some clarity on how much spending they envisage in terms of education budget able to be spent in the future. There are some BSF like the Hackney one that is carrying on but there other BFSs that have been stopped in their tracks. We believe education capital expenditure will continue in this country to address real issues with the existing schools estate; it is just not clear what form of procurement will be employed and the extent to which design will be  able to make a meaningful contribution.


ND RIBA has recently presented five-point procurement plan for schools to government. What do you think of the Building Schools for the Future programme? What was right in it, and what does not work yet? Do you think the programme can be improved, and how?

JH&AG BSF programme was hugely wasteful in terms of resource and time. Let’s put into a specific context, speaking in the way BSF works in Hackney. In 2005 the local Council had developed its own educational vision. In late 2006 we have been engaged in what was called a Reference Scheme that was already prepared before. Then a team of architects took the school’s vision, briefing and developing the scheme into RIBA Stage C .We came in as one of the two bidders. The BSF’s process is a competitive process where you can have up to three separate teams bidding for the same project. In our case we were only two teams; it means that each bidding team is engaged in developing the school design, but obviously only one will be selected. Since only one project will go on, it means that the work done by the others has been put into the bin with evident wasting of resource and time.


© Tim Crocker l Stoke Newington School & Sixth Form, the sport hall.


Jude Harris Jude Harris Jude co-leads the education studio at Jestico + Whiles. The studio has completed a dozen schools and academies and currently has ten secondary school projects either on site, or in design, in Kent, Hackney, Southampton and Essex. The team is equally adept working with new build schools as it is creatively remodelling and extending existing school estates.

Alex Gordon Having graduated with First Class honours Alex joined Jestico + Whiles in 2002, and was made an Associate in 2008. He is currently involved with BSF work in the London Borough of Hackney. These projects were secured through the competitive bidding process. Alex played an instrumental role in this success, and continues to lead these important education projects for the practice. Previously, Alex’s work has mainly concentrated within the housing sector, with completed projects including the award winning Gray’s Inn Buildings, and Timber Wharf. Alex is responsible for managing the graphic design studio, and external communications for the practice.

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