Designer chic: Making a school building project happen

Glasgow Academy’s Saunders Centre for Science and Technology has won multiple national architecture awards for its futuristic design. The £15m project was overseen by Page/Park’s project architect, Sarah Jane Storrie, who has since received the emerging architect of the year award at the prestigious Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) awards. Here, she explains how the project came to life and the difference it has made to pupils

SJ StorrieThe requirement to meet current needs and expectations and to keep abreast of the most advanced teaching in the sciences resulted in a significant and substantial new urban block for Glasgow Academy. The school was committed to creating a building that helped to make the sciences fun and relevant to the pupils. The building includes a new auditorium with the capacity for 178 people and accompanying support facilities. Suitable for both lectures and small performances, this space is available for use by the wider community, complemented by a generous foyer that wraps around a sculptural elliptical form.

Above this floor of teaching and lecture spaces – plus catering for the shared spaces (served by a new food technology lab) – is a floor each for physics, biology and chemistry. On each upper floor four general teaching labs, together with a sixth year lab, are arranged along a glazed break-out passage with bay windows overlooking the historic main school. The reinforced concrete structural frame is clad in a pattern of precast polished and honed finishes in a modular assembly that rises from the ground floor pilaster-faced open foyer, through a sequence of bay windows to a reinterpretation of the Glasgow dormer at roof level.

All-party talks

The project, situated in a sensitive conservation area, required careful negotiation with both the local authority and residents throughout the process. The Academy hosted regular community meetings to engage with, inform and mitigate any concerns surrounding the project and this process strengthened community relationships and allowed the project to progress smoothly. Our team held detailed briefing workshops with management, teaching staff and pupils throughout the design process to ensure that that all parties were fully engaged and their thoughts listened to.

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At the early stages the school’s vision, pedagogic system, activities and routines were analysed through these workshops. The school’s aspiration to move towards a more innovative pedagogical approach, independent learning and the requirements of the curriculum for excellence, fed directly into the plan arrangement. The layout of the lab floors, described above, facilitates both supervised independent and group working, whilst the location of the food technology lab on ground floor allows pupils to cater for events and functions held in the auditorium and foyer.

End user collaboration

Particular attention was paid to the use of colour on the teaching floors, referencing the Reggio Emilia approach to colour and learning. The pupils attended workshops with sample furniture where they were asked to play with layouts and furniture types before discussing which arrangements and furniture they felt worked best. With this collaborative working, the design of fittings, selection of loose furniture and graphic working of the glazed partitions and signage brought together both the architecture and interior. The students are now responding to the new layout and taking ownership of the building, using it in ways that surpass our expectations.

We feel that what has been achieved at the Saunders Centre highlights the importance of collaboration with the end user – a process at the heart of our design approach which we are continually testing and refining, but the success of this depends largely on the openness of the client to these new ways of working and developing a brief that goes beyond basic special requirements and function.

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