We were commissioned by the William Norris Primary School to transform its unremarkable and visually overlooked facade into an ‘exciting oasis’ that could serve as both a learning and teaching environment and an engaging meeting-point for children, parents and teachers.
The school, which was built during the latter part of the 20th century, is done with red brick in the brutalist architecture style, with its now unfashionable coldly minimal character. The school gym by the entrance path is of dull brickwork and measures 16m by 16m by 6m (h). This obscured entrance was unknown even to some local residents. The narrow path led to an inner courtyard, which likewise looked non-descript, resembling a commercial loading bay for HGVs. It was decided that the school needed a more prominent, uplifting exterior.
Our design concept paid homage to William Morris, the 19th-century ‘arts and crafts’ designer famous for his repeating floral fabric and wallpaper patterns, for whom the school, in the London borough of Merton, is named. Morris had a workshop in Merton Abbey Mills. The centerpiece of the design is cladding the gym building with a giant William Morris print to soften the brutalist architecture and create a local landmark.
Specialist building cladding by PPM executed the work, by building a lattice of timber battens to which the aluminium laminated panels were fixed. Coloured artificial grass in a William Morris-inspired pattern gave the inner courtyard a vibrant look. The courtyard surface was made to resemble an oasis in the middle of a sandy desert, with sculptural ‘Amesbury’ of reinforced concrete positioned to represent natural stone outcrops. The benches were interspersed for additional texture and a hint of planting with square Barcelona planters (1,000 x 1,000 x 450) of recycled material.
The space has been wonderfully transformed into an attractive meeting place for children, parents and teachers as well as a safe and enjoyable teaching and learning environment during class hours. The cloister area has a presentation cabinet where students’ project work on the life and achievements of William Morris are displayed. The nearby dining hall has bi-folding doors and now looks out to truly inspiring exteriors.
The new refreshing exteriors have cultivated a sense of community among students, parents and teachers. They now regard it as a truly communal space to call their own.