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Project in Detail

John Madejski Academy

Reading, United Kingdom
Wilkinson Eyre Architects, London, United Kingdom
World Architecture Festival 2008 - Shortlisted

Entrance to agora 
James Brittain 

This academy is the first of the Department for Education & Skills (DfES) ‘Schools for the Future’ exemplars (published in 2003) to be built in the UK. The innovative ‘kit of parts’ design solution provides a stimulating and attractive educational environment suited to new learning methodologies and a new focus for secondary education in one of the 20% most deprived wards in the country.

Architectural Solution
Based on the DfES exemplar design, the John Madejski Academy is composed from a ‘kit of parts’, a completely new approach to school building which allows a range of management structures to be accommodated. The scale of the building is broken down to create a series of ‘schools within a school’ - each accommodating up to 300 students – supporting the fragile learner and offering cross-curriculum accommodation. Located south of Reading city centre within a low-rise, low-density suburban environment, the academy is sponsored by John Madejski of Reading Football Club and has a specialism in sport.

Two building types form the basis of the design: distinctive wedge-shaped learning clusters (containing the main teaching areas) and more orthogonal central facilities spaces (containing assembly, sport, dining and office areas), all linked by a covered street or ‘agora’. At Reading, four learning clusters are arranged along two sides of a curving agora, with an assembly block to the western end and dining block at the other. Beyond the dining block and overlooking a large multi-use games area is a sport block, which has been recently completed as part of the second phase of construction. The plan form of each two-storey cluster has two linear runs of classrooms on each floor, to either side of a double-height central area which is used for ICT and learning resources and accessed directly from the agora. The runs of 3 x 60m2 classrooms can be easily adapted to provide other desirable room sizes (90m2 or 120m2), therefore offering long-term flexibility. At John Madejski Academy, each cluster represents a different academic subject area, with the internal spaces arranged in a way suited to the disciplines taught. Within every cluster a staff work base is strategically positioned to provide effective passive supervision of the agora and resource spaces, with WCs and lift located nearby. Rooms with specific servicing requirements, such as science labs, design & technology and art rooms are generally located on the ground floor with generic classrooms above. The intimate character of each learning cluster has particular benefit for new students in their first year at the academy, removing some of the anonymity and daunting scale of many traditional school buildings.

The fluid agora space provides a striking central focus for the school, bringing light into the heart of the building. Crossed by bridges at first floor level, it is a place for students to meet and mix and is lined by ‘shop windows’ allowing glimpses of the academic activities of each learning cluster. The agora is a true community space, and has been used by the school and other groups for a number of performances and gatherings – including the official opening of the school by ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair in December 2007. Connections between the agora and the external landscape are deliberately blurred, providing strong connections between classroom and sports field to emphasise the academy’s specialism, and also offers considerable potential for outdoor learning

Materials/Method of Construction
The development was carried out in two phases to minimise disruption to students and staff, the first phase including the four learning clusters and agora space. Practical, durable cladding treatments to the central facilities buildings and the agora façades of the learning clusters allow them to be viewed as a single composition of robust pre-cast concrete panels, glazing and cast glass. The proprietary aluminium stick system to the external façades of the learning clusters incorporates a ‘sonavent’ extrusion – an acoustic labyrinth allowing ventilation at low level across the internal radiator without external noise. The combination of coloured anodised aluminium and glass panels creates a visually striking façade that also serves to control solar gain. The agora canopy is made of single-foil ETFE membranes that span between a series of steel trusses and cables. These are supported entirely from the surrounding buildings to give a column-free heart to the academy. Blue rubber-crumb flooring to the agora space was designed with an abstract graphic, and has a sound-deadening function.

The design team worked innovatively to ensure good environmental performance, allowing natural ventilation to work without loss of acoustic control (in accordance with the new BB93 requirements). The learning clusters contain tall spaces (3.3m clear in classrooms) and rooftop ventilators directly linked to each classroom to allow good ventilation without noise transfer. The approach was to retain the sustainability features of the original exemplar design, principally this natural ventilation strategy, although for reasons of cost solar water heating and wood fired boilers could not be adopted. However, the building has been designed to allow for their incorporation in the future, and achieved a BREAAM rating of 'Very Good'. Wider issues considered included cycling facilities, recyclable waste storage, low embodied energy in construction, community training, access and facilities.

The project is significant as the first of the DfES exemplar schools to be built, and for its demonstration of the principles of design excellence developed as part of the initiative. The project establishes a benchmark for high quality school design and pushes forward the boundaries of innovation in encouraging the industry to develop new ways of delivering buildings for education. Experience gained on the project has contributed to a ‘virtuous’ circle of improvement in delivery standards – specifically using this kit of parts. In Bristol, for example, the design team have again employed the learning cluster on a number of new schools under the local council’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project, with considerable time and budget savings as standardised components are reapplied.

Lead Architect »

Wilkinson Eyre Architects
United Kingdom

Professional Credits »

Acoustics Consultant
Mr Mark Kirby
Sandy Brown Associates
United Kingdom
0207 870 9300

Civil Engineer
Mr Keith French
United Kingdom
01225 332 664

Client / Developer
Ms Carole Blundred
Department of Education & Skills
United Kingdom
0870 000 2288

Cost Consultant
Mr Peter Flint
Davis Langdon
United Kingdom
00353 1 676 3671

Environmental Engineer
Mr Gregoir Chikaer
United Kingdom
020 7755 3353 (director)

Landscape Architect
Mr Mark Howarth
Sandy Brown Associates
United Kingdom
020 7644 6500

Main Contractor
Mr Jeremy Eavis
Costain Construction
United Kingdom
01628 842 468

Project Manager
Mr Clive Birch
Buro Four Project Services
United Kingdom
020 7833 8663

Structural Engineer
Ms Deb Thomas
United Kingdom
0207 636 1531

Sustainability Consultant
Ms Maya Karkour
EcoConsulting (UK) Ltd
United Kingdom

Transport Engineer
Ms Deb Thomas
Buchanan Consulting Engineers
United Kingdom
0207 636 1531

Supplier / Product Credits »

ETFE roofing
Vector Special Projects
United Kingdom
.+44 (0)77 7247 7172

Precast concrete panels
Marble Mosaics
United Kingdom
.+01934 419 941