Working with local architect Roberts Limbrick, the Governors decided the most important feature of the school was creating a covered courtyard to be known as the “Village Square”.
A Space to Inspire & Enable People:
The Governors decided they wanted a space that would “inspire and enable people, while energising the community and enhancing their quality of life.” They were clear the courtyard’s roof was to look like it was ‘floating’
Having met with neighbouring Fabric Architecture Limited for the initial design consultation (to learn about fabric as a building medium and options), the Governors were clear a fabric canopy was the perfect solution. They felt fabric would allow them to achieve a very bright internal space compared to the solid roofs seen in many other British new build schools.
One of the governors stated that “it’s the canopy covered courtyard that will link the school with the community, getting it right is absolutely critical.”
The covered space was to serve two functions – a place for:
1. Students to play under (year round/rain or shine) and hold school assemblies
2. The greater community of Coopers Edge to have somewhere for fundraisers, activities and neighbourhood meetings.
ETFE versus Silicone Glass Weave Fabric:
Originally specified (by Robert Limbrick) as an ETFE system (inflatable ‘air’ pockets – as seen at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England), the Governors decided they needed to do some investigative research and site visits to ‘get it right’ and fully understand options.
What the Governors learned about their experience of ETFE was:
•ETFE is noisy in the rain because of high frequency reverberation.
•The system is high maintenance, requiring constant air pressure monitoring.
•On hot days, it creates a ‘green house’ effect and heats up the space below.
•The system and the installation is expensive in comparison to other fabric solutions.
Realising the Governors’ main concerns were to ensure an abundance of natural sunlight and to meet a tight budget, Fabric Architecture introduced them to a fabric we helped pioneer, called Silicone Glass Weave (SGW).
SGW is a very low maintenance (practically self-cleaning in the rain) fabric alternative to ETFE. It offers up to 40% light transmission in white - allowing plants to photosynthesize underneath it. It does not require monitoring or inflation systems using power and remains cool underneath it – blocking harmful UV rays. SGW is 100% recyclable, offering the school ‘green credentials’
The design solution realised is a 500 m² (1,640 sqf) bespoke canopy that is almost flat in design. This structure has no steel masts touching the ground and is built using SGW. The structural framework and canopy over-sail the buildings and connect back into the frame of the building through a series of trusses.
For maximum light exposure, 15 conical head-rings were manufactured using polycarbonate. Each of the conics acts as a light well for the area below – flooding it with an abundance of natural sunlight – even on overcast days.
The framework was fitted with down lights, up lights, and coloured blue LED’s – during the evening it glows with brilliance. In addition to lights, it was also fitted with integrated speakers for announcements and music.
The governors were pleased to learn that building with SGW as opposed to ETFE offered significant savings to the school – so much so that they are now speaking with us about another structure to cover the nursery playground.
Coopers Edge Primary opened in April and everyone has been thrilled with the result of the newly covered courtyard. The Head Teacher had this to say about the canopy:
“We love the new canopy over our “Village Square” – surprisingly it is very light, bright and airy – much better than had it been a solid roof. Having such a large covered space has allowed us to use the Village Square all year round for a multitude of events – both for the school and for the surrounding community. Everyone that walks through the front door gets a sense of how incredible the space is – it’s something we are very proud of”.
Keely Folker, Head Teacher