Cypress School is a primary school located on a sloping site in South East London.
erect architecture won a competition to design a master plan for the phased extension and remodelling of the school.
The first phase of the project, the Children’s Centre, retained, extended and transformed the existing nursery building allowing the school to be at the heart of its community offering services to families with children from pregnancy to the age of twelve.
The existing nursery building was described as of mediocre quality by the local authority’s planning department. The school felt that a lack of daylight and outlook in the building contributed to high rates of staff illness. The school was keen to retain, transform and extend the building into a welcoming, child-centred environment.
The new Children’s Centre function embraces the existing nursery building and through a series of covered external spaces creates strong links with the surrounding, until now unused and inaccessible, woodlands. Internally the footprint of the existing building has been left legible by the reception desk.
We opened up the existing building and created diagonal views into the trees. From the moment visitors enter the centre they see glimpses of the surrounding tree canopies.
We not only created connections into the tree canopy, but also opened up the ceiling of the existing nursery through the roof void. New skylights let daylight into the deep plan. The existing timber trusses are exposed and create an animated play of light and shadow.
The typology of the existing pitched roof nursery inspired the new build, which is designed as a series of folded roof planes. The folded roof can be experienced as fluid undulating roof as seen from the foyer. It also gives identity, a strong form and generous height to rooms of different sizes, ranging from smaller meeting and services rooms to the large multi-purpose room.
Covered external terraces are located towards the woodlands providing space for fluid inside-outside play. The play terraces open up an area of the school grounds that was previously inaccessible and unused for outdoor learning and play… not only for the children, but for the whole community.
To provide safe access during the construction works we designed a woodland path to be used by parents and carers for drop off and pick up. This path has now become a key feature of everyday school life with a number of socialising areas for waiting and chatting arranged under the tree canopy designed for early arrivals and late leavers.