Thirteen beautiful timber schools and nurseries

As the summer holidays end and a new academic year begins, we reflect on some of the groundbreaking examples of timber school design in the UK over the past two decades.


Research shows that when we design buildings which reflect, or remind us of, nature, this can help inhabitant’s cognitive development, shown through enhanced memory, mood and imagination.[1][2]

Along with great design, material choice is essential, and the use of natural materials is shown to have a positive effect on occupants, helping to reduce stress and support our mental health.[3][4]

From multi-form entry schools to specialist classrooms, and nursery playrooms to high-tech research centres, these inspiring case studies demonstrate how our educational spaces have been enhanced and reimagined through progressive timber design.

Discover how innovations in mass timber and locally sourced bio-based materials have been used to support low-energy buildings that provide healthy and inspiring environments for learners.

Across a range of educational building types, timber has been used – as structure, interior and exterior – to showcase inventive, sustainable construction methods, and to connect young people and staff to nature.

Wintringham Primary Academy

This three-form entry primary school uses cross laminated timber to create a flexible learning environment, built to impressive sustainability standards. Prioritising wellbeing and adaptability through the creation of fluid, multiuse spaces, the design by dRMM emphasises the social and environmental benefits of timber from start to finish.

GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry

Standing prominently in Nottingham University's innovation park, the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry was designed as an exemplar of sustainability in design, construction and materials.

Woodland Classrooms

Architect Studio Weave were asked to find an imaginative solution for the new classrooms at Belvue School, linking them to the nearby woodland and providing a rich and stimulating learning environment. Their design uses timber for both construction and lining of the two classrooms, reflecting the woodland context and imbuing them with a domestic and nonthreatening quality.

Streatham & Clapham High School

This independent day school has been transformed by an extension to the ground floor - adding a new dining hall, kitchen, and entrance - as well as a new top floor of exposed glulam and CLT, providing space for the sixth form centre. Although mass timber was chosen for its technical, cost and sustainability advantages, the architect explains that "the most palpable effect for the users of the building is the beauty of its internal timber finish."

The Enterprise Centre

Built using locally sourced natural and bio-based materials, the Enterprise Centre is an outstanding example of sustainability and low-embodied carbon construction.

Storey’s Field Community Centre and Nursery

Sitting at the heart of the village of Eddington in north-west Cambridge, Storey's Field Community Centre and Nursery has been designed as an exemplar of sustainability: using timber throughout the building, both inside and out. Within the main hall, the use of timber was key to creating a warm and welcoming environment with a high quality of acoustic performance.

Kingsdale School

Following their major transformation to the layout of Kingsdale School in 2005, dRMM went on to add a groundbreaking prefabricated timber sports hall and music school, replacing inadequate existing spaces. The two buildings house multiple facilities including a four-court multi-use sports hall, flexible activity/dance mezzanine, five classrooms, and a large performance space.

Mellor Primary School

This primary school extension was designed by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects to reflect the forest school ethos, which holds that learning through the the outdoor environment is key to helping children build resilience, resourcefulness and an ability to work together. Enjoying views out into the surrounding tree canopy, the extension to the school consists of a series of indoor and outdoor spaces: an additional classroom, a special educational needs room, a library, an extended hall, new toilets, and a wellington boot and outdoor equipment store.

Eleanor Palmer Science Lab

This small but carefully crafted building uses simple timber construction techniques to create an inventive lab space dedicated to teaching science to young children. Described by project architect Anthony Boulanger as "a learning environment that aims to foster enquiring minds, curiosity and wonder in the world", the lab sits in a corner of the playground of Eleanor Palmer Primary School in Kentish Town, where it accommodates classes and after school clubs for pupils, and is shared with other schools and the local community.

121 St. Clare’s

This private sixth-form college, which provides courses in the International Baccalaureate, has approximately 375 students, most of whom are boarders. In 2015, Hodder and Partners added five mass timber buildings arranged around a new quadrangle, and woven between existing mature trees, with a restored Grade-II listed Arts and Crafts house at the head. In all, providing 36 study bedrooms, rooms for three wardens, two common rooms, and an art studio.

Alfriston School

Alfriston school, a secondary-age day and boarding school in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, caters for 120 girls with a wide range of special educational needs and disabilities. Its swimming pool building, completed in 2014, was designed by Duggan Morris Architects to be enclosed by a beautiful multi-faceted timber structure. Envisaged as a lightweight timber form floating over the water, its innovative shape is a direct yet imaginative response to the requirements of the brief.

Arcadia Nursery

Arcadia Nursery was created to provide early-years education for children of university staff, students and the general public and caters for up to 113 children ranging in age from six weeks to five years. Completed in 2014, the nursery brought together two existing university nurseries, on two separate sites in the city, into a single purpose-built building with a generous outdoor play area, sited next to the university campus on the southern edge of Edinburgh.

Art and Design Building

When Bedales School opened in 1893, it was the first co-educational boarding school, with close links to the Arts and Crafts movement and a philosophy which emphasised the importance of arts, craft and drama in a child's development. It also established an 'outdoor work' approach, with a curriculum including gardening, tree planting and livestock tending. The Art and Design Building, completed in 2016 by architect Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, was designed to be the creative hub of the school and a physical embodiment of its values and ethos.

 

[1] Pollinate Health Report, 2018.

[2] McCoy, J.M. & Evans G.W. The Potential Role of the Physical Environment in Fostering Creativity. Creat Res J, 2010.

[3] Fell, D. R. Wood in the Human Environment: Restorative Properties of Wood in the Built Indoor Environment. PhD Thesis, University of British Columbia, 2010.

[4] Kotradyova, V. et.al. Wood and its Impact on Humans and Environmental Quality in Health Care Facilities. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2019.