The concept of a visionary, light-filled school that would be democratic and flexible, with no corridors or institutional barriers, can be traced to the practice’s proposals for Newport School in 1967. Newport anticipated trends that today form the basis of the City Academies Programme, a radical new enterprise
funded jointly by the DfES and private sponsors. The Academies - each focusing on a specialist subject - offer a new kind of secondary school experience that promotes academic excellence and encourages community participation. Bexley Business Academy, which places an emphasis on business, art and technology, was the first new Academy to be completed in the UK. It replaced a failing school in a poor part of London and the effect has been dramatic: attendance levels and academic standards have soared. Even before it opened, over 200 parents identified it as their first choice for their children – twice the number attracted by the former school.
The architectural approach was informed by the philosophy of the pioneering schools’ regeneration company, 3Es, demanding open, transparent, and compact spaces to encourage integration, communication, and cross fertilisation between students, teachers and different educational disciplines. Intimate links are also to be forged with the local community to provide a safe, exciting, and enjoyable environment for out-of-hours, extra-curricular activities. An open-plan, compact design, the school is based around three courtyard spaces that reflect its specialisms and are linked to teaching spaces on different levels. These spaces are divided by flexible partitions that allow for either large or more intimate seminars, and among the school’s state-of-the-art facilities is a mini stock exchange with large plasma screens, which gives students a taste of City trading. The building is capable of reducing heat loss in the winter and, through its unique double-layered facade with external shading louvres that automatically track the sun’s path, is also capable of reducing heat gain during the summer to provide optimum conditions and minimise the building’s energy use.
Description by architects