The Eleanor Palmer Science Lab is a small but carefully crafted timber building, which uses simple timber construction techniques to create an inventive space dedicated to teaching science to young children.
The Eleanor Palmer Science Lab is a small but carefully crafted timber building, which uses simple timber construction techniques to create an inventive space dedicated to teaching science to young children. Project architect Anthony Boulanger, founding partner of AY Architects, describes it as ‘a learning environment that aims to foster enquiring minds, curiosity and wonder in the world’. He envisages it as a timber ‘wonder room, a cabinet of curiosities and a place for discovery and experimentation.’
Completed in 2018, the lab sits in a corner of the playground of Eleanor Palmer Primary School in Kentish Town, north London, where its purpose is to accommodate classes and after school clubs for up to 31 pupils, aged 3 to 11, and to be shared with other schools and with the local community.
It is part of Camden Council’s programme to develop science, technology, engineering and mathematics in primary schools. But whereas most other projects in the programme adapted or extended classrooms, the lab is a new model building typology. Client and the architect worked together to develop the brief and the result is a building which is multi-layered, and designed to encourage children to engage their curiosity and enjoy the sciences.
The new lab replaces the exact footprint of an under-used canopy structure built against the high Victorian boundary wall of the school playground, a place with complex site and boundary conditions, between a noisy road and a disjointed playground. It is a large, single-volume learning space flooded with light, not only from a row of windows but also from two triangular timber roof structures which rise up above the main roof. They provide northlight clerestory glazing and ventilation, and give additional height for science experiments. The two raised roof structures are set back from the street boundary to reduce the visual impact of the building on the street facade, while adding to the character of the boundary wall.
A single deep window punched through the boundary wall gives glimpses out onto the main road, a visual connection which helps to link the lab with the local community. A door at the far end of the lab leads to a specially designed Science Garden that incorporates planting, a rainwater butt, anamorphic play equipment and a pedal powered outdoor disco.