Whitehorse’s golden shed declared ‘best school in the world’

Suitably reproached, GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, has been set 100 lines: “I must not slag off dodgy-looking modern architecture”

The giant golden spaceship that has landed on the site of Whitehorse Primary has won an international architecture award

The giant golden spaceship that has landed on the site of Whitehorse Primary has won an international architecture award

Two years ago, an extension to a Thornton Heath primary school had its design described in the Croydon Sadvertiser as “an absolute abomination and a disgrace”.

This week, that same design has been declared as “the best new school in the world” by the internationally respected Architectural Review.

Many locals mistakenly believed that aliens had landed from Mars when the golden roofs of Whitehorse Manor, part of a £4.5million upgrade of the buildings, were revealed looking like a vast spaceship plonked over the school two years ago.

In a poll of Inside Croydon‘s readers, 54 per cent indicated that the scale and glittering colour of the extension seemed out of keeping with the schools’ original, and listed, 120-year-old building. It was Croydon’s very own carbuncle. But we did feel a little sorry for Jolyon Roberts, one of the schools’ executive heads, who defended the transformational building work.

“We believe that there is no more lazy a stereotype than ‘all modern architecture is rubbish’,” Roberts told us at the time.

This week’s award for the design, therefore, will be a vindication for Roberts and the school staff. It will be interesting to see how it is reflected in the Sadvertiser, and whether they manage to recall how their report – based on the comments of one reader – had dismissed it so utterly.

Whitehorse Manor exec head Jolyon Roberts

Vindicated: Whitehorse Manor exec head Jolyon Roberts

The extension is the work of Hayhurst and Co. In the competition, Whitehorse Manor’s design beat rival submissions from Portugal, China and Afghanistan.

The judges praised what they called “the project’s material beauty and its spatial configuration”.

The extension to the Victorian school – which also won the school category of the Architects’ Journal Retrofit Awards in 2014 – provided a new nursery and seven new classrooms – all double glazed, acoustically designed and eco-friendly; there are also seven refurbished classrooms and an expanded hall.

There is a new admin block at the centre of the school, facilities for special educational needs pupils, and new cooking and serving facilities for school dinners.

The golden facade has replaced a 1950s concrete hall and kitchens built in 1981.

The inside of the new school looks terrific. And you can't see the hideous golden shed

The inside of the new school looks terrific. And you can’t see the hideous golden shed

“It is a tribute to the architect and the design team that they have managed to build so much additional space without significantly enlarging the ‘footprint’ of the schools,” Roberts said.

And how did the judges gush. Sadie Morgan said, “The winner is a very beautiful project. They’ve looked at the narrative, the journey of the school child. I found the level of detail and critical thinking really impressive.” While critic Deyan Sudjic said, “It’s a wonderful piece of embroidery – somewhere that feels a good place to learn and go. It’s giving the young people the sense that education matters.”

“Very beautiful”. “Wonderful… embroidery”. Noted. But it still looks like an over-sized golden shed, though.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to Whitehorse’s golden shed declared ‘best school in the world’

  1. whitgiftavenue says:

    When the building work was completed, I thought it was an example of all that had gone wrong in state education. First academies, then school renovations sponsored by Benson & Hedges.

    Time and the elements have mellowed it and it really is a piece of standout architecture. Sadly, new design guidelines introduced by the DfE shortly after it was started mean we are unlikely to see such a striking school building again.

  2. Lewis White says:

    The first time I drove past it I thought–OMG ! Bilbao Guggenheim has arrived in Croydon, with added gold bling. How very Croydon. How terrible!

    My next thought was the realisation that it has much improved the landscape of a very dull area of Thornton Heath by getting rid of the supremely ugly left hand chunk of the previous building. It was truly awful!.

    As with other readers, this has grown on me. It would be interesting to see what the interior is like– the photo you have shown looks promising. Good daylight, wood and white plaster, with a good view of the outside world. I hope that it creates a good setting for learning–too many new schools fail to deliver basic needs like acoustics that allow talk to be conducted without shouting or straining to listen against a background of noise (open plan classrooms where two classes happen at the same time—-where teachers are going deaf with excessive noise levels).

    Compared with many nonentity educational buildings, old and new, this is far superior.
    It must be very good for the children to experience good modern architecture. How important good design is to us all. Sadly, as a result of the current Government turning off the tap that has renewed many schools around the country over the last 10 or so years, we will soon be back to porta-hut schools, which are so boring, and give a poor environment internally and externally.

    Well done Head Teacher Jolyon and all who had the courage to commission this landmark building.

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