Pond Meadow Special Needs School

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Pond Meadow Special Needs School
Client Brief Pond Meadow is a Special Needs School catering for children and young adults with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties. The school accommodates 92 pupils, aged 2 -19, and offers shared facilities for use by the adjacent Christ’s College Secondary School, for an existing Children’s Centre, and also for local residents. The new building addresses many deficiencies of the school’s former accommodation which consisted of a number of adjoining buildings and pre-fab classrooms, hemmed in by residential developments. Organisation By contrast, the new single-storey building has been located on a prominent position of the site, and orientated to exploit views to the surrounding landscape which relate to the internal organisation. Whilst the brief specified the need for a single School identity, the building is designed around the concept of an evolving journey which defines a distinct identity to the three zones of the Lower School, Upper School and shared Community area. The overall layout is organised around 3 courtyards at the centre of each of these zones, which are further reinforced by subtle shifts in the building’s orientation. Classrooms are located around the perimeter, maximising natural light and ventilation and allowing direct access to secure, sheltered outdoor play areas. Critically, the nursery and foundation classrooms open towards an adjacent children’s centre; key stage two classrooms look towards the adjoining park; and the upper school classrooms open towards a new secondary school, so that each age group builds an appropriate relationship to their wider context. This reflects a progression for pupils as they move through the school, and gradual integratiion into public life outside of the school. Character The undulating roof form was generated by continuously linking the volumetric constraints of the large assembly halls to the lower scale of individual classrooms. The resultant form of the roofscape responds also to the local context and vernacular of pitched roof homes as a fifth facade of the building, which is enjoyed from the interior by pupils who may have limited mobility, in particular those who are bed-bound. Where the roof extends to create sheltered external teaching spaces, these become defined by the iconography of the domestic pitched roof for the youngest children. Internally, natural daylight is drawn in through clerestory windows as the ceiling undulates and unfolds above, providing a key navigational guide to the journey through the building and a calm atmosphere. The configuration of windows at different levels allow low-level views of external landscape, mid-level views of the surrounding context, planting and the horizon, and high-level views of trees and the sky. These levels datum lines were informed by the varying eye-levels amongst the school’s occupants - children from 2 - 19 (sitting, standing, playing on the floor), wheelchair users, and teachers. This modulation of fenestration along with the shifting ceiling geometry means that every classroom is uniquely different in scale and character reflecting the individuality of each pupil’s needs. Consultation Consultation with the school’s specialists refined design features to avoid both physical and visual barriers to access. Bespoke artwork manifestations, developed in collaboration with the artist Martin Richman, have been incorporated into the scheme animating the building with colour, whilst reducing the opportunity for pupil distraction through the glazing. A visual impairment specialist was also consulted to understand the complexities of impaired vision, addressing spatial awareness, materiality, colour and contrast, and developing appropriate wayfinding and signage strategies. Planning Issues The new building for Pond Meadow School was designed and built simultaneously to that of Christ’s College Secondary School and together they create a shared education campus with the existing Guildford Children’s Centre. Consultation and research revealed that the previous building on the site was acting as a barrier to local pedestrian connectivity, demonstrated by the fact that fencing around it had been removed and the site used as an informal footpath. This ‘desire line’ was integrated into the project as a new public open space and generous new public route through the site, reconnecting the adjoining residential community of the Bellfields estate to the rest of the area, its amenities and network of green, recreational and habitat areas. As such, positive links and a sense of ownership have been established with the local community integrating this specialist teaching centre into their midst. Materials and Method of Construction The local materiality is predominantly red brick. Pond Meadow School, and the adjacent Christ’s College respond to this context by wrapping the buildings in a high quality semi-glazed brickwork skin with intricate detailing, elevating their appearance to a more civic nature. This is treated very much as “façade`, with windows and doors sitting flush to the outside face. The undulating pitched roof comprises a profiled standing-seam metal roof and a distribution of in-plane GRP rooflights. At each end, extraordinary 4m cantilevered canopies continue the brick bond of the main walls onto their fascias, and poly-carbonate soffits create safe, sheltered playspaces throughout the day and across the seasons. Natural daylight is diffused through the canopy and supplemented by artificial light on dark mornings or evenings in winter. Sustainability The design of Pond Meadow School has been driven by the ambition for passive sustainability and low energy consumption. Each space within the school has been designed to maximise the benefit of specific natural light qualities. Three internal courtyards and the raised central section draws natural light and air into the depth of the plan through continuous clerestorey windows. All classrooms employ natural ventilation and a Heat Recovery Ventilation strategy has been implemented in ancillary spaces, generating energy and operational cost savings. A Daylight Monitoring System has been introduced to improve energy efficiency. The exemplar design quality of the masterplan and the buildings has been recognised by CABE as 'well-considered and of significantly higher standard than the majority of schools we review' and Pond Meadow was recently awarded an RIBA Award 2009. Pond Meadow’s Headteacher, David Monk, said “The building is absolutely stunning. The design principles fit in perfectly with the needs of youngsters who face considerable challenges.`

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