Monks’ Park School

Read More

Bristol, UK. 2001

Site Plan
Ground Floor Plan
Monks Park School
Classroom cluster around shared teaching area
South facing classroom
North facing classroom
Classroom to shared teaching area

In the early 1950’s an extensive program of school building was begun to update and aid an ailing British education system. This program resulted in the building of a ring of eight schools in the suburbs of Bristol. Built to serve a rapidly expanding population based around light industry, the condition of the schools has declined and a new program of building is underway attempting to deal specifically with Bristol’s new demography. The city’s population is decreasing but the migration of the financial services’ support staff from London has resulted in an influx of young families moving predominantly to the city centre. This has resulted in dwindling enrolment in suburban schools and subsequently new schools are being planned closer to the city centre to accommodate the predicted increase in required places.

Of the eight schools completed in the early 1960’s Monk’s Park School has fared differently from the rest. Situated to the north of Bristol, just a few miles from the M4 and M5, Monk’s Park has served a slightly different demography. The area’s economy was focused around the aerospace industry, with a large proportion of the population being either university graduates or highly skilled technicians. With the arrival of Airbus and British Aerospace the area is thriving and the school is the only one of the eight suburban schools with an increased attendance and has the best record for university admission. The school currently supports 1100 pupils (on a site originally designed for 440), and many more through its city learning program.

The existing school is carefully maintained but the school assembly hall has recently been condemned, the temporary classrooms which were installed in 1982 are now over twenty years old and the cladding on the two original classroom blocks leaks badly — money is being saved for the new school building proposed for the northern edge of the school site. The two original classroom blocks are of a delicate reinforced concrete column and slab construction, and although the classrooms are undersized by modern standards they are much loved by teachers and pupils for their bright, airy nature. The school occupies the south eastern corner of a large open expanse of windswept playing field bound on three sides by housing and to the East the busy A38. The school sits on the brow of a hill, the playing fields stepping down towards the houses with views North West over the roof tops and across Filton Golf Course towards the Severn Bridge and Wales beyond.

The project is based around the generation of a new architecture from the recognition of qualities found in the existing buildings, the appropriation of the school as found and its improvement through a phased programme of refurbishment, selective demolition and the addition of new buildings and facilities. The proposal looks for a gradual easing of old and new allowing the construction and refurbishment to respect the ghost of what was there before while subtly shifting the figure ground.

The gentle additive first stages of the project will be followed by periods of demolition before the construction of the next phase. The staggered nature of the building programme will result in an accumulative environment where the nature of the earlier building and the spaces surrounding them will change as their relationship to new and old, empty and occupied also changes. As the programme develops the nature of the buildings will meander between that of solitaires to a collection of related structures and a finally a dense introspective, mass; feeling like the negative cast of the original school. The density of the separate blocks will lend something of the city to the sprawling suburban outskirts, giving focus to the bleak, exposed neighbourhoods surrounding.

The proposal to extend and adapt the existing school is bound by the requirement to keep the school functioning with the minimum of interruption, while restricting the major construction work to school holidays. The buildings are constructed using LenoTec timber panels on a concrete ground slab. LenoTec is a building system of prefabricated monolithic timber panels made using finger jointed soft wood off cuts. The panels are CAD-CAM cut in the factory to the correct size and all door and window openings are cut as are conduit runs and the structural connectors fitted. Once the ground work has been completed the structural work can be completed in approximately three weeks. The concrete form work can be struck three days after the pouring of the ground slab and the concrete should have gone off sufficiently within a week for the timber erection to begin. Timber erection will take roughly two weeks. The rapid construction will allow for a reduction in preliminary costs and for a building envelope to be completed within the summer holidays which will reducing the noise and amount of heavy equipment on site during the school term. The systemised construction method also makes it economically viable to use high quality materials and achieve a high quality of construction in a school, a project type typically governed by a limited budget. The porous nature of the design results in a large area of external surface and a generous number of corner rooms allowing the building to be entirely naturally ventilated.

The scheme proposes three variations of a façade typology which respond to aspect and structural requirements. The black anodized aluminium clad facades of the new buildings are defined by the LenoTec panels which structurally support the slab edge. The manner in which the panels support the slabs responds to the orientation of the particular façade, while the requirement for large expanses of glazing set flush with the cladding to the north and smaller deep set windows to the south articulates the structure while creating a layering effect whereby the view outwards from each window is of a different façade type. The recladding of the existing buildings seeks to unify the old and new while recognizing the fundamental differences between the two forms of construction. Where the facades of the new buildings accept their structural nature and assumed weight, the new cladding of the existing buildings recognizes its function as a skin. Applied to the outside edge of the slab the cladding serves functionally to insulate the interior while visually and materially unifying the old and new. 

The building is organised spatially around the idea of shared spaces and the relationships between spaces of the same or differing natures. The density of the buildings and their close proximity to each other creates strong visual links between classrooms, shared teaching spaces, roofscape, the internal meadow and landscapes external to the school. The individual blocks themselves operate similarly around spaces, eradicating the corridor, and clustering the classrooms around shared teaching areas which relate visually and spatially to spaces across the meadow.  The meadow which grows at the heart of the school mediates between the austere, public outer edge of the school and the softer, complex nature of the private interior which is hinted at from the street. The meadow’s blooming results in a fleeting reinforcement of the relationship between the interior and exterior landscaping. The linoleum floors of the school are coloured independently of program and structure, instead responding spatially to the mass of the surrounding buildings and planting as well as the nature of the external space. This colouring of the ground extends outside where the two shades of asphalt respond in a similar way to the linoleum but also serve to define a dense rectangle of hard landscaping on which the school sits and a triangle which broaches the foreground between the school and the roadside. The coloured asphalt and the meadow that reappear on the roofs of the buildings add to the patchwork of colour formed by the school’s horizontal surfaces.

The separate buildings that make up the mass of the school are connected by covered walkways. The walkways which are sandwiched between the buildings are constructed of delicate stainless steel columns supporting a deep but very fine truss which is covered by volumetric, gold anodized aluminium hats whose brims reach out to lap the gap between the walkways and the entrances to the blocks. The similarities of the materials used in both the buildings and the walkways connects them yet the constructional differences allows the walkways the freedom to form bus shelters, sports pavilions and shelters for the groundsman’s tractor while hinting towards the aluminium clad warehouses and hangers of the Rolls-Royce Aerospace plant a mile to the north.

Project status
Design Study


Monks' Park School

1.15 hectares 


Michael Lee Architects