Janet Summers Early Years Centre
Southwark, London, 2005-14

A new early years centre, the first phase of a phased masterplan for the redevelopment of a 1960s inner city primary school.

For almost a decade we have worked closely with this inner London school community to design and realize a number of projects aimed at both improving the quality of the children’s learning environment and providing useful facilities for the wider neighbourhood.

The most significant new building has been the Janet Summers Early Years Centre. The existing nursery and reception classes were housed in separate, standardized 1960s classrooms. The national Foundation Stage Curriculum suggests a specific pedagogical model for 3-5 year olds with the emphasis on self-initiated learning, role-play and an equal measure of internal and external play. AOC developed the brief for a new building that provided an exemplary indoor/outdoor environment for early years with a diverse community of existing and potential end users.

A tight funding deadline necessitated the design be completed in ten weeks. Developing the designs through large-scale models lead to intense, productive regular design meetings with the end users, allowing the designs to evolve quickly and within the program.

The new building provides three distinct but joined teaching spaces – a role-play room, an external classroom and a covered play area. On top a new external teaching terrace and roof garden was created for the older children in the adjacent classrooms. The ground floor accommodation and external play areas significantly enhanced the existing public spaces, actively encouraging the social interactions between pupils, staff, parents and the wider community that contribute to a successful neighbourhood facility.

The combination of ceiling surfaces, floor markings and existing elements create a series of suggestive internal and external spaces encouraging teachers and pupils to appropriate and adapt the spaces – today ancient Egypt, tomorrow Narnia.

A stand alone playhouse (an adapted proprietary shed), an under-stair sensory room, a homely external store and a collaged landscape of new and existing elements continue this quest to provide a suggestive range of spaces in which the children can, as stated in the new curriculum, “experience the unexpected”.

As well as the successful completion of the early years centre, we have also completed:

  • a strategic framework for the school campus developed with the broader school community through a series of workshops and consultation events
  • new outdoor play areas, including growing spaces
  • new office spaces, meeting room, kitchen and wcs
  • a feasibility study for the development of the school house into school arts facilities, a community space and affordable housing, now built through a development partner.

Blackfriars, Southwark, London

Friars Primary School

Structural engineer

Quantity surveyor
Cook & Butler

Dominik Gigler

Further Reading