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Hackney Primary School

The Hybrid Tenet

Henley Halebrown

Hackney Primary School

There was once a London of extensive suburban communities. There still is. There was once a London whose architecture often signaled a turning point. It still does. There are projects that either discreetly or forcefully carry on the tradition of sparking change and experimentation. The tradition in question has a web of
well-defined rules on which to rely but also from which to depart just enough so as to trigger changes that mutate into innovation. The London-based practice Henley Halebrown has done just this with a project in the 19th Century London Borough of Hackney, once owned by the De Beauvoir family and today a listed area subject to special safeguard. The opportunity was provided by the brief to build a new primary school on the site of a decommissioned fire station.

The client’s request was only apparently straightforward: to build a complex that included a school and a residential block. Although a certain degree of mixité is now increasingly seen in Europe, combining a school in the lower reaches of a skyscraper with offices and residential units on the upper floors is a feature we still associate much more with metropolises like New York and Toronto. Whether we like it or not, here in Europe it still seems somewhat hybrid, and “hybrid” still carries the negative connotation of somehow not being “natural”. Yet this is where the London designers have proved their bravura, grounding their program on a morale principle that turns the whole project into an experimental first. In an interview with L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, Simon Henley, founder of the practice in 1995, declared his motto as “Ethics and Aesthetics”. It has become the other pillar of this school and residential project, where the school was developed by Noel Cash and the point-block by John Marshall.

The complex cuts a striking figure in the neighborhood,...

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