Abbots Green Community Primary, Bury St Edmunds

The Overview

For and on behalf of Suffolk County Council, this first phase of a new primary school, opened in 2005 with places for 150 learners, from Foundation Stage through to Year 4, including a twelve place provision for pupils with moderate and complex learning difficulties.

The Challenge

The site allocated by the developers was a green field site, and a former airfield runway.

The delivery programme for the school became compressed due to elongated negotiations to purchase the land. In order to meet the programme, we selected off-site construction as the method to build the school quickly and efficiently. Sustainable construction techniques and the use of renewable energy were also key drivers in the clients brief.

The design was to be underpinned by firm pedagogical principles demanded by the Schools new Leadership Team, which was constructed out of experience, teamwork, research and the guiding principles set out in Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’- meeting the physical and emotional needs of children. Understanding ‘the psychology of space’, which has a big impact on a child’s attitude and openness to learning, was critical to the success of the project.

The physical and emotional needs of children had to be met too, in adventurous and stimulating outdoor spaces designed solely through children’s eyes with open ground, tree houses, digging and building zones –and a recumbent giant that the children designed, had built and named Joe. Learners would have the opportunity to add and complement the outdoor landscape each year with project builds and developments in their power, the Head teacher’s mantra “a place to play is a place to learn.”

The Solution

The overarching design principle was to break down the functions of the school into a series of identifiable pavilions, all organised around a central linear street, which simplified movement and way-finding.

The largest volume, the Hall, was positioned at the front to give the building a civic presence onto the street - a white rendered structure, it creates a unique identity for the children and the school. The hall frames a hidden sensory garden (a private world), concealed behind a beautiful tall hazel wattle fence, which can be enjoyed by the whole school, and the wider community when facilities are let out. The scale of the hall is diminished by the introduction of an exaggerated parapet (a bill board), again rendered, onto which super-graphics have been placed to announce the school. From this parapet, a timber clad box was added, housing the main entrance and admin facilities - the change in material drawing your eye toward the front entrance. White render and timber was chosen to help enliven a dull northerly aspect. Elsewhere, the remaining elevations are less formal and use coloured render and timber. These, along with the verandas, create a rich and stimulating external learning environment. The fifth elevations, the roofs, were covered with sedum blankets - an ever-changing blanket of colour.

The interior has a very light and open feel. At the heart of the school is an internal multi-use street, top lit with large circular roof-lights, it creates a visual link between all the indoor activities, whilst large internal windows and doors offer unexpected views and glimpses to the outdoors – bringing the outside in. The street has a very calming atmosphere and had a remarkable impact on the behaviour of children with complex learning difficulties.


The design of this school was recognised as follows;

RIBA Spirit of Ingenuity 2007 – Education & Healthcare Award.

Civic Trust Award.

RHS Award.