Camden Centre For Learning

London Borough of Camden

Project Outline

Providing an inspiring, safe and secure learning environment for students who have been excluded from mainstream schools or have special educational needs, was the primary aim for the London Borough of Camden. Through the redevelopment and expansion of two Victorian school buildings on separate sites, Camden Centre for Learning (CCfL) has been realised, offering a specialist-learning environment for young people with social and emotional behavioral difficulties at Key Stage 3 and 4 learning years.


Both sites have undergone extensive remodeling and refurbishment to update the buildings so that they answer the complex needs of the user group. Through the addition of complementary wings, Architype has sensitively and successfully doubled the accommodation, to increase the care provided by the centre and multi-agency NHS team.

Careful restoration reveals the grandeur of the existing buildings whilst providing state-of-the-art facilities for students with interests in food technology, art and DT, science, and hair and beauty. Grand Victorian halls have been reopened for dining and sport, and previously dysfunctional spaces have been renovated to accommodate staff areas, classrooms, consultation and individual learning rooms.

Key Stage 4
On Site / Aug. '13
Completion / Sep. '14
Key Stage 3
On Site / July. '14
Completion / Apr. '15
Gross Internal / External Floor Area
Key Stage 3 - 1468 sqm
Key Stage 4 - 1334 sqm
Construction Type
Retrofit and Extensions
Total / £7,850,000

Camden Design Awards 2015


Adopting a sensitive approach by designing in consultation with the students and staff, has helped deliver their aspirations of a calm environment, filled with natural light and finished with warm, textural finishes.

On both sites, the existing Victorian building remains the focal point, with the new single-story wings concealed by the original brickwork perimeter on the Key Stage 3 site and in the case of the Key Stage 4 site, the two-story extension taking a subservient position, set back from the main frontage.

Despite two separate locations in Camden, a common architectural language was identified to unite the sites, supporting the common culture between the schools and aiding a smooth transition for pupils as they graduate to the next level of education.

I was a student in both of the old buildings, but the new buildings are different, they feel like a normal school

KS4 Student, Camden Centre for Learning

Sensitive Construction

Special care was taken in restoring the external brickwork, using gentle systems that retain the surface of the brick and the patina of age. Further repairs replaced bricks that were crumbling with replicas, even matching the aged mortar with the same colour and texture.

The existing sash windows were unsuitable for the users, so these were replaced with new timber ones that are visually similar, but easier to operate, with the glazing improved to slimline double-glazed units. Coloured window grilles provide protection and a decorative element, giving life to the building.

Complementing the existing, other materials chosen included hand-glazed, durable ceramic tiles, specified to reflect the Victorian era. Damaged Victorian cast iron downpipes were replaced with cast iron effect aluminum downpipes with an anti-climb profile, and all original decorative hoppers retained and repaired.

The KS4 building, located on Agincourt Road is situated in a conservation area, adding complexity to the application of exterior works. One of the major refurbishment works involved replacing the elaborate Victorian cast railings and Portland stone plinths, which had buckled due to the roots of a near by tree. New piled foundations were inserted and new plinths constructed, with the decorative ironwork salvaged and recreated.

The paint scheme varies subtly in the extension from the existing building, where an off-white tone has been chosen to subtly reflect Victorian paint technology of the times, which lacked pure white pigment. Great efforts were taken to retain the original plaster and cornices but these were found to be loose and dangerous so were removed, except on the beams where restoration was achieved.

Consultation Process

Architype worked closely with staff, pupils, care groups and NHS team to develop the design across both sites.

Designing for students with social and emotional behavioral disorders (SEBD) was the ultimate challenge of this project, and in delivering a successful outcome required in-depth understanding of the day-to-day challenges facing the schools.

Providing a safe and secure environment for all building users was critical, but equally the need for the finished school to not appear hostile or defensive, despite the many necessary interventions, which needed to be in place to protect users. The result has achieved a calm and modern learning environment with flexibility for future needs.

A key problem area for the clients were the doors, which are often damaged, and created a number of serious health and safety concerns. Bespoke doors were designed to open outwards so that, if kicked with force, they will not damage locks and trap users inside.

Fencing has been designed at a particular height to discourage pupils leaving the school premises and hurting themselves. The fencing selected is a hand woven durable wire, which is available in a choice of standard or bespoke patterns, working to improve the security, without limiting the architectural aesthetic. The pupils were involved in the process, helping to pick the floral pattern for the weavers through a vote that was held as part of the consultation.

Shortlisted for the AJ Retrofit Awards 2015

Delivering a building which is inherently robust and that offers a sustainable future for the school was of key importance to the success of this building. The finished school reduces carbon emissions and energy costs, but above all the environmental upgrades provide a quality, healthy and comfortable atmosphere for occupants that make for a 21st Century learning environment, whilst honouring the age of the building. Wherever possible we design solutions that will give the building sustainable integrity that is locked-in, improving the performance with simple solutions that will continue to benefit both the old and new parts of the building.

Where appropriate we use renewable sources to enhance this. The incorporation of photovoltaics on the Key Stage 4 building meets the planning requirement for a carbon reduction of 40% on Part L’s Target Emission Rate. The annual energy from renewable sources and associated CO2 emissions reduction is 8.07 kWh/m2 or 4.27 kgCO2/m2.

Particular focus on environmental performance has improved the internal conditions through natural ventilation, thermal mass, optimised daylighting and mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR). The airtightness of the buildings was improved to minimise infiltration.

Careful control using a Building Monitoring System (BMS) in both buildings avoids overheating and supplies a continuous flow of fresh air to help concentration and focused study, directly feeding energy use data to the clients performance monitoring team. Building services were replaced throughout for better efficiency. In both new and existing buildings, extensive controls were installed to ensure all environmental controls are demand led, with windows opening and closing in response to the internal conditions. Additionally there are some manual windows to give users freedom to open or close voluntarily. Lighting is low energy and similarly, demand led, complete with daylight and presence sensors in the majority of locations.

Educational Studies/Post-Project Review

CCfL KS4 is currently undergoing a full two-year Soft Landings programme, undertaken as a pilot project for the London Borough of Camden.

As well as monitoring building performance, we are also helping the users to adjust to the building. Disseminating information and training, we teach users how get the most out of the building to keep it functioning efficiently with optimised operation.

As a result of being frequently present at the schools, we are aware that some of the measures put in place have proved to not be robust enough as pupils familiarise themselves with weaknesses in specifications. We have been able to revisit these with the teaching staff, and take their advice on improvements to provide new solutions.

Architype Team

Project Partners

John Brown Construction Consultancy
Buxton Building Contractor
Structural Engineers
Built Engineers
Quantity Surveyors
Gordon Hutchinson
M&E Engineers
Michael Popper Associates
Landscape Design
Katy Staton


  • Camden Design Awards 2015
  • Shortlisted for the AJ Retrofit Awards 2015
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