New beginnings

Jo Golding explores some of the most innovative new schools and buildings in the independent sector

Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School

● Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School, Kensington
● Launched September 2020, in use from January 2021
● 3,147m²
● £10m
● Period detail, natural materials, pops of colour

The music room


Creating ‘the best prep school in London’ was the brief from Cognita Schools several years ago – so even before the pandemic it was an ambitious project.

Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School – a new independent prep school for boys and girls aged 3–11 – is now nearing completion, with staff and pupils set to move over to the new school in January 2021. In the autumn term pupils are being taught in a Cognita school close by, due to a delay in construction as a result of the pandemic.

The £10m project has seen four, six-storey Grade II-listed, mid-Victorian townhouses in Kensington transformed into an educational space with room for 230 pupils. There are multi-sports spaces, science labs, music and arts studios, and an exciting ‘Maker Space’ where pupils have access to green screens, a Lego wall and a 3D printer to get their creative juices flowing. There is also a two-acre secure garden.

Pupils will be able to make the most of the surrounding area, visiting Hyde Park for PE, having lessons at the Natural History Museum and Science Museum, and accessing Imperial College’s Ethos sports centre.

Construction was carried out by Bryen & Langley, and the school was designed by Wright & Groom. The school described the design as “warm, modern and practical, yet beautiful and sympathetic to its significant architectural features”.

The townhouses provided a backdrop of period detail, which has been highlighted by a calming, fresh paint palette.

The furniture is made from natural materials (light wood and eco fibres) and there is statement decorative lighting. The spaces have many quirky touches and pops of colour to spark pupils’ curiosity. Natural light and plants have been used to aid pupils’ concentration and wellbeing; during lockdown, headmistress Alison Melrose potted 250 houseplants herself.

“Our building and location provide us with incredible facilities, making it easy to deliver our curriculum, but as ever, it is the school community which is its heart,” says Melrose. “While moving into the new building is slightly delayed, it is the pupils, staff, parents and neighbours that bring a school to life wherever its home is.”

Interview: Alison Melrose, headmistress, Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School

Warwick Independent Schools Foundation

● Project One Campus for Warwick Independent Schools Foundation
● Opened September 2020
● £45m
● Stone, bronzed steel, maple wood
● Shortlisted in the RIBA West Midlands Awards

Unveiling The Spirit of King’s artwork


In a significant £45m project named Project One Campus, King’s High School has joined Warwick School and Warwick Preparatory School on Myton Road.

The Warwick Independent Schools Foundation, the governing body for all of the schools, began the project in 2017 and finished it in time for this year’s autumn term, bringing all the schools together on one large campus.

King’s High has been given a new home, and now shares a new sixth form centre with Warwick School, with “university-style facilities” such as shared social spaces, a café, careers provision, and group and private study areas. King’s High and Warwick Prep have a new music school with auditorium.

There is new play space for Warwick Prep, improved sports facilities for all (including a 4G rugby AstroTurf), a pedestrianised centre to the campus with green spaces and quads, as well as improved routes for traffic and increased parking.

The project was designed by Nicholas Hare. The design is “light, airy and sleek”, according to the school, with an emphasis on natural materials such as stone, bronzed steel and maple wood. Each classroom looks out over green space, and King’s High is a ‘smart’ building which self-regulates the temperature within.

The project also includes one of the biggest artworks commissioned in the Midlands: an eight-metre polished steel sculpture by Liz Middleton. Kathleen Soriano, chair of Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art, unveiled The Spirit of King’s at a ceremony to mark the school’s 140th anniversary.

Pupils have said the new campus is “cool” and “awesome”, and they like the “Scandi style”, whilst parents have commented on how “fabulously funky” it is and how it “feels like a modern Oxford college”.

The foundation now offers co-education for pupils aged 3–7, and single-sex education for pupils aged 7–18 on the same site. This allows pupils of all ages to share social and co-curricular activities.

Richard Nicholson, principal of the Warwick Independent Schools Foundation, says: “Our foundation schools have always aspired to offer the very best to our pupils and their families. This investment has not only improved the opportunities for our current pupils but has created an unrivalled campus and environment which will sustain future generations.”

See more photos of each school in our digi mag

St Paul’s School

● New campus at St Paul’s School, Barnes
● Completed March 2020
● Recently completed teaching building: 9,000m²
● Triple-height atrium with mezzanine
● Wildflower roof

Green spaces connected to the buildings are key (Image © Walters & Cohen Architects)


St Paul’s School in London has undergone a significant transformation, removing its 1960s buildings and replacing them with an inspiring, university-style campus. The landmark project has been a long time coming, with building starting in 2011 and the whole project being completed in March.

The campus has grown steadily, starting with a new science block, courtyard building, drama centre and theatre in the earlier years by Nicholas Hare Architects. Walters & Cohen Architects designed the new general teaching building, which was completed in 2019. It houses the Kayton Library, which extends over two floors facing the Thames.

A kitchen, dining hall and 28 classrooms were added next. Then a new atrium with mezzanine, chapel, hall, ICT facilities, administrative offices, social spaces and more classrooms were all added.

As the place where everyone meets at break times, the school wanted the atrium to become a lighter space that encouraged the use of outdoor areas. The spacious triple-height atrium has become the social heart of the school, spilling out onto the court and sport areas.

The building is arranged in an L-shape to connect buildings on both sides and all levels, enclosing a central green courtyard. PV panels cover the roof, providing the school with an ongoing source of renewable energy. They have even been raised above the roof surface to allow a wildflower roof to grow beneath – increasing the site’s biodiversity.

The school wanted a space where learning and interaction could happen everywhere, not just in the classroom. Mark Bailey, who was high master of the school during the project, says they wanted the building to be functional, space-efficient, intimate and not intimidating. He wanted pupils to interact in the school as if in a university, and breakout spaces have been dispersed around the school to encourage collaboration.

All areas receive good levels of natural light and, where possible, the building is naturally ventilated. “The building promotes quiet, calm, intimacy and purpose. Yet it has presence. It is energy efficient. It feels like a university for school pupils. The excitement among staff and pupils is palpable,” says Bailey.

Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls

STEM building at Habs Girls’ School, Elstree
Opened September 2020
Block C GIFA: 1,130m², Block D GIFA: 1,725m²
Contemporary, natural light, large windows

The building contains 15 labs and a large multi-purpose space


Having seen a steady increase in the number of girls choosing science A-levels, Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls have invested £11m in a new STEM building to boost IT and science provision.

The building contains 15 labs and a large multi-purpose space for housing lectures and experimental demonstrations. The school also invested in additional robotics kits and extra science equipment.

The enhanced facilities will enable the school to host longer-term STEM projects in artificial intelligence, such as the creation and development of robots. The labs will also be used for community outreach work with the school’s partner primary schools.

The architects for the project were IID, while construction was carried out by Lifebuild. IID went for a sleek, contemporary style, allowing plenty of natural light in. A specially designed STEM graphic has been applied, notable on the double-height STEM lab.

One student says: “I love how spacious the labs are and the massive windows that brighten up the class; it makes me more alert in lessons.” Another student says the building is a “nurturing and encouraging space to learn the sciences”.

Rose Hardy, headmistress at Habs Girls’ School, says: “It is fantastic to see more girls choosing to study sciences at a higher level and our new STEM building will give them and future generations the scope and the facilities they need to excel in their endeavours.”

The building was able to go ahead thanks to the bequest of alumna Dr Luena Hatcher, who devoted her life to medicine. “This is an exciting and historic moment for our school and none of it would have been possible without the generosity of Dr Luena Hatcher to whom we are eternally grateful,” Hardy says.

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE spoke at the building’s virtual opening, emphasising the importance of diversity in science and encouraging pupils to ‘think big to achieve more’.

Main image: The Kayton Library at St Paul’s School (Image © Dennis Gilbert/View)

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