Bridge Academy, London

April 15, 2011 Filed under: 2000s, Education by Sanna Fisher-Payne Comments Off

Placed 28th in the Placebook vote of favourite buildings by BDP
Architectural author Kenneth Allinson on why he finds Bridge Academy satisfying and intriguing

You can receive a building as you find it, as raw materiality, and indulge in its aesthetic. This, it would seem, is the ultimate test. But many buildings have stories within them, about which they, in themselves, are mute. That story can be so minor or uninteresting it isn’t worth knowing. Or it can be rich and disclosive.

Some buildings even enjoy a variety of stories and the best ones are those that enable you to experientially compose a meaningful narrative for yourself. It says something special about Bridge Academy that it has enabled me to do this.

I have been to Bridge three times, once on the occasion of also visiting other new London schools of a similar size, all sharing the same accommodational criteria, all quite different but quietly in competition with one another. On each occasion Bridge impressed me, each time in different ways, contributing a different content to my story-building.

On the first occasion I soaked Bridge up in a very general way and greatly enjoyed its mix of indoor and outdoor spaces, its dense planning and architectonic quirkiness of a neo-Erskine kind: a building full of daylight, inventive spaces and equally inventive features – not just for children to be in and enjoy, but as a better kind of place for teachers to work. On the second occasion we dealt with other issues and the discourse this time was about the constructional and budgetry challenges – rarely an uplifting discourse, but still intriguing.

On the third occasion I went to Bridge after meeting with Tony McGuirk at Hampden Gurney school – somewhat the baby version of Bridge and its progenitor – where this BDP team leader emerged from his apartment next door and give us a rationale for this remarkable central London school before leading myself and a group of foreign architects off (as it seemed to them) to another land: London’s East End, where Bridge has an important role to play in the lives of a lot of local children for whom Marble Arch is another world. Here, for a good one and a half hours, Bridge became the work of an inspired project architect who, it was quite clear, deeply cared about every dimension of the project’s challenges. Like a Pied Piper, McGuirk trailed us about, up and down, into the central library under its pillow roof, on to roof terraces overlooking the canal, into the theatre, the sports hall and a variety of classrooms that were always interesting places to be in, and onto galleries where children could learn in spaces of an architectural character that is all too rare in these projects.

So Bridge is, for me, a three part story: a satisfying ‘what’, an intriguing ‘how’, and evidence that someone in particular did this thing, enjoyed doing it and was an inspiration to those who witnessed him enthusing about it. In a personal narrative of identity concerning London’s terrifically varied architecture, Bridge has an important place.

Kenneth Allinson is an architect, an architectural writer and lecturer. He is author of London’s Contemporary Architecture, a founding trustee of Open House and co-founder of Architectural Dialogue Ltd