Completed in 2006, Marlowe Academy is a product of the last decade’s school building boom that actually delivers what it says on the tin: a transformation of education. The building, which drew on the full spectrum of BDP’s design talents covering architecture, structural and environmental engineering and landscape architecture, also amounts to a transformation of school design.
On the educational side, the school day runs from 8.30 am to 5.00pm so that its 1,100 students can carry out their homework on the premises. When I visited the school a few months after it opened, teenager Chrissie Grindle told me: “It’s just like a college here. It’s all contained in one building, and it’s all open on the inside. So the teachers and the students get on well with each other.”
On the architectural side, the building revolves a huge curving atrium that is daylit, four storeys high and capped by a gently vaulted timber roof spanning 20 metres. On either side of the main atrium lie two more atria that are less expansive and crescent shaped. Whereas the main atrium is serves as the social heart and dining hall of the school, the two subsidiary atria are ICT-assisted study areas for the faculty wings encircling them.
However, all three atria shares roles as main circulation routes. Nearly all the classrooms are reached by open decks that overlook the atria and discourage bullying by being fully visible.
Externally, bold curving forms in bright mustard yellow and terracotta cladding contribute a sculptural presence to a barren edge-of-town setting. Bold and bright enough to inspire the least academically motivated of students.
With credentials such as these, Marlowe Academy deservedly scooped the only UK award devoted exclusively to school building: the RIBA Sorrell Foundation Schools Award. It also picked up a Wood Award and further awards from the RIBA and the Institute of Structural Engineering