St Elizabeth Catholic Primary School . Bethnal Green

source: courtesy of Scabal 

SCABAL was appointed to design an ‘after school club’, the School House, in the south east part of the playground of St. Elizabeth Catholic Primary School, Bethnal Green. The school is very successful both because of its high curricular performance and all its social activities. The School House replaces an existing one made of portakabins, as part of the school’s vision for change.

Through dialogues and consultation, the design has been developed in terms of form, procurement method, detailing and material choice. 

The School House is a stand-alone 144m2 building within the existing school located close enough to one of the entrances in the main façade so it can be easily used by the local community as well as the school’s community. Although its main purpose is to be used as an ‘After School Club’, it is also the school’s intention that it is used as a parents’ evening gathering room, a training room and an extra classroom when required. It makes the most of its direct connection with the external play area allowing the design to become a fluid indoors/outdoors space. It was designed as part of a series of inhabitable objects that will populate the school’s site. In connection with the concept for the playground, the school’s realm should be perceived as a small village with different buildings and spaces that serve specific purposes. In this way, it harmonises with the existing works that have been done in the school and all the future ones (playgrounds and Early Years). By being like a small house in the playground, its appearance and scale also neatly reflects the forms of the surrounding terraced houses. Its distorted trapezoidal footprint with a slanted timber clad pitched roof houses an open plan room, where many different activities can take place simultaneously. On the southwest corner, a large sliding door allows the building to open up to the playground dissolving the boundary between indoor and outdoor play. The building appears to be a mostly hermetic form with the glazed corner and the generous roof light creating a special ambience to the indoor space.

Internally, the School House’s open plan is inhabited by a core space containing all the requested facilities (toilet, disabled toilet, kitchenette and small office space). Analogous with a colourful pile of toy building blocks, these rooms are located underneath the roof light. Above it there is a small mezzanine space, with a view to the main room, for quiet play and story telling.

The School House – St Elizabeth Catholic Primary School

‘The resulting structure is a delightful distillation of the practical needs of the school, grounded in the place, and elevated by a playful architectural ambition to bring added value, far over the constraints of the budget and brief. If this is the future of school building, we have every reason to be optimistic.’

Oliver Wainwright, Building Design, Friday December 3 2010

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