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Burntwood School

Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

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dmadsen, hanley wood, llc

Project Name

Burntwood School

Project Status


Year Completed



21,405 sq. meters

Construction Cost


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The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced yesterday that the Burntwood School, by AHMM Architects, has won the 2015 RIBA Stirling Prize, which honors the United Kingdom's best new building. Selected from a shortlist of six buildings, the Burntwood School becomes the 20th winner of the RIBA Stirling Prize.

By weaving new construction with existing buildings build in the 1950s Modernist school by Leslie Martin, AHMM produced a campus for 2,000 pupils and 200 staff with the addition of six new faculty buildings and two cultural buildings. Self-similar buildings are formed of the same standard set of components, but with each building housing a specific function (e.g., arts, communication, math, sports, etc.). AHMM varied size and orientation of deep, load-bearing precast concrete façade panels to produce non-repetitive, self-shading elevations. 

“Burntwood School shows us how superb school design can be at the heart of raising our children's educational enjoyment and achievement," RIBA president Jane Duncan said at the award ceremony. "Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, experienced school architects, have created a stunning campus. They have produced delightful, resourceful and energy efficient buildings that will benefit the whole community in the long term. With the U.K. facing a huge shortage of school places, it is vital we learn lessons from Burntwood. I am delighted to present architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris with the 2015 RIBA Stirling Prize.”

Judges for the 2015 RIBA Stirling Prize included Peter Clegg, senior partner of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios; Rory Olcayto, editor of The Architects' Journal; Theresa Sackler Bee, trustee of the Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation; Steve Tompkins, director of Haworth Tompkins (winner of the 2014 RIBA Stirling Prize for the firm's Everyman Theatre); and Jane Duncan, director of Jane Duncan Architects as well as RIBA president and chair.  

Project Description

The transformation of Burntwood School pieces together a 1950’s modernist education campus for 2000 pupils and 200 staff in south-west London. Within an existing mature landscape, six new buildings-as-pavilions develop the heritage of the existing, orchestrating a system of bespoke constructional components to bring both efficiency and delight. The new buildings – four 4-storey teaching pavilions, a new sports hall and a new performing arts building – are placed amongst a number of retained buildings (including two by Sir Leslie Martin) to form a complete and coherent campus, with lawns, squares and a central pedestrian spine. Within each pavilion, classrooms and ancillary accommodation are arranged along a central corridor with voids and double-height spaces at each end to increase natural daylight and make connections to the exterior. The regularity of each plan is followed through to the elevation with faceted precast concrete panels that correspond to a 7.5 metre structural and classroom module; a development of the prefabricated façade work seen at Dagenham Park Church of England School.

This is a truly collaborative project in which mature architects with deep understanding and experience of what makes for a good school, working with landscape architects who believe that a light touch can transform an existing landscape, and a graphic artist whose work has long made way-finding an art form in AHHM projects, to produce one last hurrah for the Building Schools for the Future programme. And, lest we forget, BSF may have been based on a wasteful methodology but it did have at its heart a desire to improve the fabric and learning environments of all our schools.

Burntwood also reminds us of the previous time when such aspirations were the norm: the 1950s and early ‘60s when the LCC and GLC programmes led by Leslie Martin were giving London light-filled, beautifully organised schools. Here at Burntwood a fine Leslie Martin-designed building has informed the new architecture and the relationship between the new concrete buildings and the older buildings adds a sense of architectural history and depth to the whole site. It gives the lie to the notion that the super-block with the vast wasteful atrium is the answer to the question, how do we best design a school?

Burntwood has the collegiate air of an Ivy League campus – perhaps it’s all the pale, finely-detailed concrete, perhaps it’s the elegant covered walkway that links the principal buildings, drawing together the disparate styles and ages of the architecture. The basic module, made up of alternated pre-cast panels, is used creatively to produce blocks of different character for different purpose. One, cut through to form a gateway, affords a great sense of arrival and an immediate impression of quality, openness, confidence, solidity. The architectural expression throughout is bold, characterful and adds to a sense of this being more like a university than a school, and would appear to encourage behaviour to suit. AHMM have produced grown-up buildings for Burntwood School, which make kids raise their game, instead of pandering to them.

These are buildings with great force. A modular pre-cast concrete cladding, using eight different moulds, with canted edges and different sized glazing panels is playfully arranged on a rigid grid creating surprising interior spaces. The rooms are gracious and full of light, and there are many double, even triple-height spaces. Internal corridors all end in well-framed views. This is education architecture as it should be.
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