Henley Halebrown’s Hackney New Primary School is a mixed-use project with affordable housing in Hackney’s Kingsland Road Conservation Area.
The primary school is located on a site opposite Hackney New School, an earlier secondary school building also by Henley Halebrown that opened in 2013. It accommodates 350-pupils between the ages of four and eleven. The 68 apartments at 333 Kingsland Road, adjacent to the new school, have retail accommodation on the ground floor.
Hackney New Primary School and 333 Kingsland Road explore principles that have recurred in Henley Halebrown’s buildings since the studio was established in Shoreditch 25 years ago. One of the overarching ideas is that of architecture promoting communality by creating opportunities for people to come together in shared spaces that they can readily identify with and feel ownership of as occupants.
Another important tenet is that of rooting buildings within their context so that the buildings’ edges and walls actively negotiate the threshold between their external and internal realms. This liminal quality enables occupants to inhabit the building’s structure by negotiating between its inner and outer worlds, and thereby forming a constant awareness of the surrounding urban fabric.
At Hackney New Primary School these ideas are expressed in Henley Halebrown’s concept for a two to three-storey local school that shares its compact 8,180m2 site with a new mixed-use eleven-storey point-block which houses all the residential units. This tight-knit combination of functions brings about the type of communality that its client, The Benyon Estate, has been actively seeking in an effort to breathe new life into a predominantly otherwise residential area.
Henley Halebrown and the Benyon Estate worked together on the hybrid project with Thornsett who specialise in residential-led enabling developments. The architects’ client group also formed an innovative partnership that in addition to the Benyon Estate and Thornsett includes The Education Funding Agency (EFA) and the Hackney New Primary School Trust.
Description of the project
Henley Halebrown’s scheme fuses two building typologies – a courtyard or ‘cloistered’ school and a residential point block. The apartment building’s compact plan frees up the maximum footprint for the school, achieves good daylight penetration to its courtyard and provides a substantial acoustic and atmospheric buffer from traffic on the main road. Formally, the school borrows from the scale and substance of the taller structure giving it an inherently civic quality.
The entrance gates to the School were designed in collaboration with the artist Paul Morrison. They depict a scene – a spider’s web and a dandelion - that marks the threshold between the adult world and one for children. Behind them one can glimpse an oblique view into the largely hidden inner courtyard.
On a fine day parents waiting for children can sit and chat on a concrete bench – much like the unfurled wall and seats of a cathedral chapter house - which runs the length of the School’s south-facing façade. In the rain, parents may take cover under the arcade connecting the School with 333 Kingsland Road.
Inside the School
Behind the street frontages the courtyard conjures an inner world reduced in scale for smaller people, a place to learn, play and wonder. Its walls are lined with ivory glazed brickwork chosen to enrich and illuminate the space.
The parti distributes the programme to the site’s perimeter to carve out the largest possible courtyard and play space. This is coupled with external circulation in the form of covered galleries and a further rooftop play space. The result is an efficient plan (high net-to-gross), healthy circulation and a direct relationship between inside and outside space.
The galleries orientate and organise the school on all levels. Classrooms are paired so that each year group can be taught concurrently within the two overlapping spaces. Classrooms, music rooms, the main hall and administrative spaces, all focus inward towards the courtyard, overlooking one another.
Children and teachers alike move from one activity to another in the open air. This focus on outdoor space on all floor levels promotes outdoor teaching, conversation, play and exercise throughout the school day.
333 Kingsland Road
The plan for the residential tower generates what appears to be a narrow point block on the south east corner. This narrow masonry structure is mirrored in the north west corner. Floors are paired, with loggias carved out of the mass of brickwork. They have an important role in mediating between the households and the city.
A 2-storey order extends around the perimeter of the building and, at the top of the tower, there is an open colonnade capped by a precast entablature. Through this open frame, the sky and penthouse terraces are visible.
The layout is symmetrical and the plan shape moulded – “pinched” and “twisted” – to create the colonnaded façades to the north-north-east and another orientated west-south-west towards central London.
The building material for both the School and 333 Kingsland Road is predominantly red brick. Elements - columns, beams, stringcourses and parapets – are precast concrete, the deep red colour derived from the red granite aggregate and red sand used in the mix. This distinct colour plays an important role in reading the pair of buildings as a cohesive and public project, like an urban city block, that alludes to two easily legible and familiar form types: the courtyard and the tower.
Established in 1995, Henley Halebrown has evolved into an award-winning practice of education, healthcare, residential, commercial, arts buildings and ‘adaptive reuse’ projects.
Whilst working extensively across Europe and Russia on masterplanning, residential and arts projects for the past 15 years, the practice has also won eight RIBA awards; three in 2018 - Chadwick Hall, De Beauvoir Block and Kings Crescent (which also won the New London Awards Mayor’s Prize); and prior to this, Shepherdess Walk, Talkback TV, St. Benedict’s School, Junction Arts & Civic Centre and the Akerman Health Centre, which made the RIBA Stirling Prize midlist in 2013. In 2018 Chadwick Hall was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize, whilst nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Award EU Prize for Contemporary Architecture in 2019.
Teaching, writing and research is key, and 2018 saw the publication of a monograph by Swiss publishers Quart Verlag in their De Aedibus International series.