New “garden school” opens in East London

Architecture Initiative’s new school in east London has opened its doors to over 700 primary school pupils. Designed for Tower Hamlets School Ltd and London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Olga Primary School envisions a ‘garden oasis’ in the heart of the capital city.

The school’s vertical design consolidates 25 classrooms around a naturally-lit atrium with the age of pupils increasing as the building rises. The three-storey, glazed atrium creates a circulation core that separates the structure into two distinct volumes: one accommodates the teaching centre; the other contains the administrative and communal spaces, delivering the added benefit of opening the facility to the wider community outside of generic schooling hours.

Increasing the capacity of the school three-fold creates extra places for pupils that are sorely needed in Tower Hamlets, where demand for places is expected to rise by as much as 38% by 2022. Replacing a single-storey 1982 structure, Architecture Initiative’s design safe-guards the quaint ‘village-feel’ by expanding vertically to avoid sprawling across the site plan and consequently affecting the landscape.

Green space is incredibly important to Olga Primary School and the architect responds to this by incorporating a variety of terraced gardens and trees to create a rare ‘green oasis’ to inspire children within an exciting and unconventional environment. All year groups have immediate access to outside space – the ground floor to the gardens; the first floor to terraces; and the second floor to the roof – linking the pupils with the ecology of the surrounding area. The interior fit-out optimises a small palette of bright aquas and limes to complement the raw materiality of the pale concrete finishes and birch ply interior cladding – expressed in a contemporary, Scandinavian style. Large graphics ensure that the teals and greens of the site’s gardens are brought into the interior.

Lee Mainwaring, Design Director at Architecture Initiative, said: ‘Our aim is to ensure that a new generation of schools inspires and nurtures learning. Olga Primary School has been designed to interact with nature in different ways at each level which allows the school itself to encourage awareness of biodiversity, ecology and nature, which is often rare in an inner-city school.’

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