Foster + Partners | Capital City Academy
The Capital City Academy provides an apt setting to introduce a program that outlines a radical new ambition to rebuild or refurbish every school in England, transforming secondary school education.
Sponsored by Sir Frank Lowe, Capital City Academy is one of the first City Academies that use strategic capital investment to deliver state of the art classroom facilities to support innovative teaching styles. The Academies are jointly supported by the Government and entrepreneurial sponsors from the commercial sector, and offer a new type of secondary school for the 21st century.
The concept of a visionary, light-filled school that would be democratic and flexible, with no corridors or institutional barriers, can be traced to the practice’s proposals for Newport School in 1967. Newport anticipated trends that today form the basis of the City Academies Programme, a radical new enterprise funded jointly by the DfES and private sponsors. The Academies – each focusing on a specialist subject – offer a new kind of secondary school experience that promotes academic excellence and encourages community participation. The Capital City Academy, which has replaced Willesden High School, specialises in sports and has a leading role in outreach sports development in other local schools. It has established a ten-year joint development plan with the Willesden Sports Centre.
The pre-existing school buildings were in poor condition and did not meet the standards for contemporary teaching practice. The new school takes the form of a long gently curving linear building on the eastern edge of the site, close to the Sports Centre. This form allows the perimeter of the site to be used for playing fields, and produces a natural link between the historical entrance to the school and the Sports Centre. Inside the building, bands of teaching spaces are arranged on either side of a central ‘street’. With ramps along its length that respond to changes of level on the site, this space provides a social hub and contains informal research and study areas.
The classrooms are larger than conventional classrooms, with taller ceilings. These teaching spaces have partially glazed walls that create visual links between different departments and are designed to be reconfigured as needs evolve. The school offers an inspirational environment for children and teaching staff as well as a vital new focus for the whole community.
Frank Thomas, Principal at the Academy said:
The building is exciting and innovative and offers an extraordinary opportunity for the staff and students of Capital City Academy. For the teachers it represents what is likely to be a once in a lifetime chance to educate young people of the 21st Century in an environment which is truly of the 21st Century.
He also added:
The change for students which the Academy represents has been wonderful to witness. It has shown in their pride and self esteem which has grown immeasurably. The better students feel about themselves the better they approach their study. Attitudes have changed and aspirations have increased, and already we are anticipating an improvement in the performance of all students.
The Foster design of this Academy directly promotes these ambitions. A central spine organises the building, forming a spacious internal street that runs through the centre of the school to allow visual connections and interaction in a stable and safe environment. The concern for transparency and openness was paramount, with classrooms that are larger and taller than usual with partially glazed walls, which provide natural lighting and visual links between classrooms and departments, and natural cross-ventilation to the exterior.
The Academy has been designed to provide flexible learning opportunities and can be reconfigured as teaching and learning practices evolve in the future. Restaurant facilities are located at the heart of the building to encourage social interaction. A generous full-length colonnade embraces the sports field and relates the building to the surrounding landscape.
City Academies are a part of the community and this academy has a range of facilities, including a theatre, sports hall, library and computer rooms, which are openly available to the public for after-hours use. The building assumes a local scale and is orientated to create a new public route, which allows the public access to the whole site.
Architect: Foster + Partners
Location: Brent, London, England
Client: Sir Frank Lowe , The Capital City Academy Trust (Sir Frank Lowe + DfES)
Date: 2000 – 2003
Consultants: Buro Happold , David Langdon, Buro Happold , Equation Lighting Design, Clarson Goff