Eleanor Palmer Science Lab
Shortlisted in The Wood Awards 2019 Buildings category, Eleanor Palmer Science Lab at Eleanor Palmer Primary School, Lupton Street, London NW5 is a learning environment that aims ‘to foster enquiring minds, curiosity and wonder in the world’.
Conceived as a ‘wonder room’, a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ and a place for discovery and experimentation, the building operates as a repository of science collections filled with artefacts gathered by the school and specimens brought in by children.
The building was designed by AY Architects, with IMS Building Solutions Ltd acting as main contractors, as well as carrying out all the joinery work.
The Lab accommodates classes and after school clubs for up to 31 pupils and is designed to be a shared resource for the school, neighbouring community and other schools.
The building is entirely made of timber with an exposed spruce frame, plywood linings and furniture and larch external cladding. It is flooded with natural light and the smell of wood.
The Lab replaces the exact footprint of an under-used canopy structure built against a Victorian boundary wall. It responds to complex site and boundary conditions, a noisy road and a disjointed playground.
The architects considered how architecture could be manifested through the means of the curriculum: processes, forces, materials and living things. An advisory group of staff, parents, governors and pupils provided important input throughout the design process.
The primary and secondary structure, internal linings, built-in furniture and external cladding are all made from FSC certified timber; sawn spruce beams, columns and joists in standard sizes, spruce and birch faced plywood and hard wearing Siberian larch cladding.
The fully exposed timber frame construction is geared to engage children with technology directly through manifesting its own structural and material logic: children should be able to mentally ‘unpack’ and analyse the parts of the building intuitively.
The columned functional rear facade is built against a Victorian boundary wall and punctured by a single deep-silled window providing both glimpses onto a noisy road and a ‘shop window’ display opportunity to engage the neighbourhood.
A pair of triangular exposed spruce frame roof volumes constructed from sawn spruce beams and joists in standard sizes are lifted above the main space. They present only their apexes to the road, visually masking their impact and giving generous daylight, ventilation and additional height for experiments in the plywood lined interior.
The glazed wall to the playground lined with sinks, work surfaces and shelving and the functional rear wall with display cabinets filled with artefacts gathered by the school and specimens brought in by children, define an adaptable free space that visually connects to the external environment. Pulled back from the boundary, the building’s roof form reduces its impact on the street while adding to the character of the boundary wall.
The details, internally and externally, are child-scaled and the use of a linear bench along the full width of the façade serves to unite previously disjointed playground areas.
The building is the most ambitious of Camden’s new STEM facilities built to promote the teaching of sciences in primary school education. Delivered for a modest construction budget of £330,000, this building is not an adapted or extended classroom, like all other projects supported by Section 106 funding, but a new model building typology.
According to the architects: “Eleanor Palmer Science Lab is an example of our philosophy of passive environmental design and how architecture can be developed to reduce the reliance on energy-consuming equipment. It advocates an integrated passive design approach where the servicing of the building is kept simple.”