Case Studies Education

Ysgol Trimsaran

Ysgol Trimsaran is the first entire school building designed to Passivhaus standards in Wales. Identified as being in urgent need of replacement due to cramped and unsuitable learning conditions, a bright, new, healthy one-form-entry primary school with adjacent nursery was required. Inspired by the Welsh hillside context , the multi-level scheme nestles comfortably into the steep site and uses materials that reflect the heritage and landscape of the area.
The prominent hilltop site required a sympathetic design approach. Careful consideration was given to phased construction and safe user access throughout the build programme, allowing pupils to continue to attend the adjacent existing school.
A natural palette of materials creates a subtle and elegant aesthetic. Elevations are finished in a mix of slate tiles paired with Welsh larch and a sedum roof, drawn from the local supply chain and enhancing low carbon credentials. The timber structure is domestically grown Welsh timber frame.
The £6,300,000 project started on site in August 2016 and was completed in August 2017, within schedule and to budget by Dawnus Construction. The Passivhaus design required only a nominal uplift in capital costs of approximately £100sqm compared to the Welsh national average. This was justifiable for the client due to the added benefit of operational costs being reduced so dramatically.
Ysgol Trimsaran provides and uplifting learning space, rooted to its community through thoughtful design process. The new school has strengthened the sense of pride within the community, offering a place where people can come together and where pupils want to learn. The scale and flexibility of spaces allows teachers to execute different teaching methods that were previously not possible. The design of the school enabling good ventilation and daylight, contributes to the health and wellbeing of staff, and pupils alike.

Planning and Design Process
The combined vision of the client and project team sought to:

• Express the character and atmosphere of the school in line with the feedback from consultation with staff, pupils and parents from the village of Trimsaran.
• Create a dynamic range of stimulating spaces for teaching and learning that enable staff to teach according to modern pedagogies, providing flexibility for change and sustainability in the short and long term.
• Achieve effective but unobtrusive security that would help the users to feel safe in their new school and look forward to a new chapter of the school’s history.
• Ensuring that ancillary support and circulation spaces are optimised to work simply and effectively.
• Create a delightful, airy and uplifting building made from natural, sustainable materials that complement the Welsh hillside setting.
• Maximise natural daylight and ventilation, to create a healthy internal environment that delivers superior levels of comfort.
• Design a building that will be a positive legacy for the community, with communal facilities that will enable ownership and local pride.
• Achieve a high level of quality, reflected throughout the design and finish of the building.
• South facing elevations are shaded by overhead balconies
• Include mixed-mode ventilation, supported by MVHR (Mechanical ventilation with Heat recovery unit) with manual windows to be opened at the users discretion and window grills for night time purging.

Key Sustainability Points
The school is designed to Passivhaus standard and with a holistic approach to sustainability. Architype considered the Triple bottom line, profit, people and planet when designing and building this school. The school is providing opportunities for people and family’s as well as improving wellbeing. As the school is designed to Passivhaus standard it is guaranteed to perform well and consumes radically less energy leading to a substantial savings on energy costs.

“It is spacious, light and airy and has improved pupil’s pride and self-esteem. The temperature is constant thus improving concentration levels.” – Sharon Owen, former Headteacher at Ysgol Trimsaran

Case Studies Education

Ysgol Bae Baglan, Port Talbot

Planning and Design process


The school is divided into three teaching wings all directly linked to a large heart space. There are two independent learning pods to allow for a transient increase in pupil numbers and future expansion. Landscape and building designs were developed together to provide a seamless and coordinated series of events throughout the scheme.

Innovative engineering

Complex ground investigations results revealed a need to design a structural steel frame which transferred loads evenly across the ground. Early designs suggested piles would be about fifty metres. This was not only expensive but could have disrupted neighbouring sites during installation. An innovatively engineered solution for stiffening the ground was developed and this eliminated the need for deep piling and the risk of penetrating local aquifers.


All external materials were selected for robustness and ease of maintenance. Elevations are largely engineering brickwork at ground floor with highly insulated render and composite panels at upper levels. There are some robust feature coloured rainscreen cladding panels supplied by Carea.

Multi-sensory environment

To provide respite from prevailing winds a sheltered courtyard was included which is visually playful with coloured glazed panels in the curtain walling suggesting a peaceful wild flower meadow. Way finding and colour schemes throughout the school replicate these colours complimenting other multi-sensory signage that enables visual and hearing impaired pupils to sense their environment through sounds, lighting levels, colours and textures.

Design champion

Neath Port Talbot were keen champions of design excellence throughout the project. Strong collaboration between client, design team and the contractor has delivered a school which has clearly inspired a sense of genuine ownership in its staff, pupils and the local community. Commitment to procuring and maintaining design quality is evident in the client’s appointment of the design team to complete Stage 3 before appointment of a main contractor. This ensured their aspirations could be developed throughout subsequent design and build stages. Their continued collaboration and involvement has been rewarded with this community focused scheme that more than meets their architectural and educational vision.

Key sustainability points

Energy efficiency 

Ysgol Bae Baglan is a highly sustainable project, achieving a BREEAM excellent rating and an energy performance certificate of A. Classroom elevations are located away from the noisy road allowing them all to be naturally ventilated.

Green technology

There are over 2,000 m² of photovoltaic panels on the roof and there is a large transpired solar collector which passively pre-heats air to warm the sports halls, reducing running costs.

Community use

The entire school is open to the community after school hours and is widely used for a variety of cultural, learning, social and sporting events. Central core spaces are designed for flexibility, allowing the space to expand and contract and accommodate a variety of activities. Opened by school patron, actor Michael Sheen, the large performance hall has already established itself as a well-loved, active community theatre space.

Image credits: James Morris & Jones Millbank

Case Studies Education

Cwm Ifor Primary School, Caerphilly

Planning and Design Process


The flexible plan of Cwm Ifor Primary School provides a very much learner-oriented design, with a greater emphasis on informal learning areas and the elimination of traditional corridor spaces. Located in a socially deprived area of Caerphilly, the new school facilities have been strategically located on the school grounds to encourage people from all around to take pride in the facilities and increase attendance at the school.The brief placed emphasis on the need for the design to embrace the school’s culture and ethos of community and support.


The timber frame solution incorporates a large open plan dining/café/performance social space at the heart of the building which opens up to the adjacent hall, increasing its capacity for school performances and activities. Arranged off this central space are four wings accommodating the foundation stage, infant, junior and staff administration facilities.

Learning space

Through extensive consultation, Architype arrived at a radical layout which is unique compared to traditional classrooms off corridors for ‘Stand and deliver’ education. The scheme adopts a smaller class size with shared hub spaces, breakout spaces, outdoor classrooms, inhabitable walls and nooks for various learner directed activities with small groups and one-to-one sessions.

Flexible space

Sliding doors and folding partitions between spaces feature heavily allowing for multiple arrangements of different sized spaces, including opening up the classrooms to the outside for indoor/outdoor learning.

Key Sustainability Points


Architype’s eco-minimalist approach rejects the need for complexity and largely focuses on careful analysis to develop effective solutions that significantly reduce energy consumption through robust, simple design and detailing.

Passive principles

In partnership with Caerphilly County Borough Council Building Consultancy, Architype applied their simple design principles that enable the architecture to do the hard work in saving energy and reducing environmental impact. The building shape, form, section and orientation are designed to achieve useful solar gain and to control solar overheating. High performance triple glazed windows and elimination of thermal bridges through excellent detailing have helped to achieve a low airtightness value. The entire school is naturally ventilated, with minimal extraction in the kitchen and toilets. Careful M&E design reduces system energy losses and water consumption. Lighting levels are achieved by exceptional levels of natural daylight and when required, low energy efficient lighting.

Sustainable materials

A simple palette of sustainable, low-embodied energy materials has been specified which includes a timber structure, cladding and joinery and recycled newspaper insulation. The finishes use non-polluting manufacturing processes and include non-toxic organic paints and stains made from natural oils, resins and pigments. Floor coverings are from a choice of cork, recycled tyre matting or linoleum flooring made from linseed oil and jute.

Local suppliers

Where appropriate the selection of materials has been considerate of their social impact e.g fairly traded. Local materials have been given precedence such as Welsh timber, Welsh Warmcell insulation and local sandstone paving.

Sustainable technologies

The roof, with differing levels, houses a green sedum cover to increase and maintain bio-diversity in the area. It also holds as a strip of solar panels for renewable energy generation. The scheme achieves BREEAM ‘Excellent’ through a robust palette of natural materials, off-site timber closed-panel construction, meadow grass green roofs, untreated UK timber cladding, high levels of insulation, natural lighting and ventilation and on-site renewable energy generation with an innovative roof membrane integrated PV system.

Case Studies Education

Burry Port Community Primary School

Planning and Design Process


The new-build aspects of the scheme are a triumph of innovation and sustainable construction, not to mention an exemplar use of Welsh timber, for which the new buildings are entirely constructed. In line with Passivhaus requirements, the honest, pared back form of the new junior years building is wrapped in continuous air-tight duvet layer from the foundations-up. To give a fresh and natural aesthetic, the envelope is clad in Welsh larch and topped with a contemporary zinc standing seam roof.


The elliptical pod building, constructed using the Brettstapel method, is one of the first examples of Brettstapel construction being used in the education sector in the UK. The technique poses as a showcase for Wales’ abundance of low-grade softwood, Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce. The pod provides important break out space for the pupils, used for assemblies, performance and activity based learning.

Key Sustainability Points


The sustainable Passivhaus strategy that benefits the schools excellent building performance is met with an innovative low-carbon approach to design and construction. The Brettstapel in particular is a great example of this, maximising the performance of low-grade softwood components allowing them to be used structurally whilst providing a natural, toxin-free interior finish that complements the internal air quality.

Local materials

Renewable, low-tech construction techniques are utilised throughout the scheme in particular on the Welsh timber frame and façade. Besides the inherent excellent sustainable credentials, the two new buildings showcase the capabilities of Welsh timber and promote the material to the industry, with positive consequences to broaden the market for Welsh timber.

Sustainable materials

The eco-specification continues beyond the construction aspects of the scheme and is continued throughout the interior. Wood wool acoustic panels made from a mixture of pine, spruce and poplar wood fibre strands, bound with magnesite and treated with natural salt have been specified for the ceiling panels. Other materials have included recycled tyre matting in areas of heavy footfall and natural vegetable oil stains on interior ply finishes.


“This is the new home for the children of Burry Port – for their children, and probably their grandchildren too. We can’t even begin to explain the difference this building has made to us – the children think it’s very cool. The pupils love their new, eco-friendly classes they are light and spacious, providing an excellent environment for learning.”

Alison Williams, Head Teacher

Case Studies Education

Ysgol Craig y Deryn, Gwynedd

Planning and Design Process

Economic Prosperity

Whilst the school ‘modernisation’ process is an emotive process to many in small rural communities, the development of Ysgol Craig y Deryn secured the long-term employment to staff and a supply-chain of local support businesses. The new area school represents a commitment by Gwynedd Council to reducing overheads, financial risk by reducing energy consumption but also its carbon footprint into the future. Although it is not the main driver for the reorganisation process, this project results in revenue savings which help to ensure the future sustainability of the education provision within the catchment. Ysgol Craig y Deryn replaces four buildings ranging in age from late Victorian to the nineteen seventies and in turn delivering a projected saving of 14% of the revenue budget and the removal of existing maintenance costs and obligations.

Local resources

During the construction phase of the project, the local economy benefited from employment opportunities and spend at businesses of many types, whether as sub-contractor companies, materials suppliers or business supporting personnel who were staying in the area

Community Involvement

This proved to be one of the biggest challenges in taking forward the development of Ysgol Craig y Deryn, as the key political decision to close the four existing primary schools within the catchment was resisted. At times it proved difficult to differentiate between these early decisions and the dialogue associated with the actual Planning Application submission. A structured programme of consultation meetings, workshops and exhibitions was initiated by the Client and Project Architect following a series of public meetings held at the stage when the concept of school re-organisation was being considered. The later meetings were held specifically with head teachers, staff and representatives of the four communities to establish design principles, an appreciation of the site context, and agreement over the design objectives of the brief. These sessions enabled working relationships to develop, a formal feedback mechanism to be established and a forum created where information could be gathered or alternatively the concerns and issues of the communities better understood. It should be noted that all the sessions were conducted bi-lingually. Many actually occurred through the medium of Welsh alone (where it was appropriate to do so).

Community events

Whilst not directly related to the planning process but having a lasting influence on the project outcomes, a range of other community involvement initiatives were coordinated by Gwynedd Council to focus on the future welfare of the pupils by the act of creating a new school community. A strategy for this transition and gradual amalgamation of the existing four schools took place through a range of themed events and site visits where pupils explored the opportunities that the imminent change would bring.

The events included the following:

  • The National Children’s Poet for Wales, Eurig Salisbury working with each of the schools with the intention that the words and verses will be incorporated into the building.
  • Joint workshops in the village of Llanegryn by the artists, Jenny Hall and Catrin Williams where sketchbooks, models and murals were created and the opportunity provided for the pupils to explore the site of the new school before the construction phase commenced.
  • Visits from the Main Contractor and their children’s builder character, aptly named Ivor Goodsite to the individual schools during the construction period.
  • A programme of events organised by Gwynedd Council with Aberystwyth University during “Science Week” 2013 for the pupils to explore a variety of building related themes; building visits were also arranged with the Project Architect.

Key Sustainability Points

Sustainable community

Promoting sustainable development opportunities within its widely dispersed communities is vital to the future well being of Snowdonia and the county of Gwynedd. Whilst the population has remained relatively stable over the past few decades, it masks a much more significant structural change – highlighted by the outward migration of young people for higher education, housing and employment opportunities and an inward migration of older people which has paradoxically widened the gap between house prices and affordability for what is a relatively low wage economy, largely dependent on public services, tourism and agriculture. These changes to the age and social structure of the population are not uncommon to other regions of the UK, but when coupled with the statutory purpose and function of a National Park, considerable care and imagination is required to demonstrate the positive impact and benefits that good planning can have to influence and guide the future viability, vibrancy and well-being of a sustainable, balanced and empowered community. It should be noted that the Welsh language is integral to the identity of this area. It is the spoken and written language of approximately 62% of the population in Snowdonia and in some communities the percentage is as high as 85%.

Active and passive design

Active and passive measures to mitigate any environmental impact together with a clear strategy to minimise energy consumption and waste have been considered at each step of this project. BREEAM ‘Excellent’ together with EPC and DEC ‘A’ ratings have been targeted but in reality the choices to build a well-insulated, correctly orientated, well-lit and naturally ventilated is a good example of the ‘fabric first’ approach to provide a stable internal environment that is less susceptible to the extremes of seasonal variation and will also withstand climate change in the future.

Sustainable technologies

Solar Hot Water will supplement the water heating demands of the school while 100m² of PV cells that are integrated into the south facing pitch of the Main Hall Roof and will produce 12.5KWh with a 5.22 tonne annual CO2 saving. These will be linked to the ‘Feed-in Tariff’ while the biomass, wood pellet heating may seek to take advantage of the ‘Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme’. Future-proofing the wood pellet vs wood chip has been integrated into the scheme and the combination of these technologies will provide a low carbon solution to the space heating and electrical requirements of the building that in turn will generate approximately 60% of the total required energy demand on site from sustainable sources.


Rainwater harvesting has been incorporated for the flushing of WC’s and to reduce water demand, while a sustainable urban drainage system (SUDS) strategy has been developed with swales and an attenuation pond to manage surface and ground water issues. On site foul drainage treatment is provided by means of a package treatment plant so as not to compromise the capacity of the existing mains infrastructure within the village. It is hoped that this project will operate as an ‘exemplar scheme’ within the National park.


During construction 94% of the waste produced on site was diverted from landfill and all specified products were responsibly sourced or were selected through the BRE ‘Green Guide’ with many registering an ‘A’ or ‘A+’ rating.

Bio diversity

The enhancement of habitats and bio-diversity of species has been encouraged, with considerable thought given to the design of boundary treatments and translocation of hedges. Wildlife areas are accessible to pupils as a resource and work is ongoing with the Education officer from the National Park. Flexibility and ‘loose fit’ has been introduced into the configuration of the school building while recycling initiatives for water and waste of all types can be seen and assessed as a learning resource by the pupils. A dipping pond and wildflower meadow has also been included within the scheme and planted predominantly with native species or those under threat such as the Black Poplar.



Case Studies Education

Cardiff and Vale College

Planning and Design Process


The project necessitated extensive consultation with the wider community and local businesses as well as the College’s staff and students. This allowed us to address any potential conflicts from stakeholders but also to identify opportunities for synergy between different aspects of the scheme. Specific stakeholders that we engaged with included Radio Cardiff (who now have their studio in the building), BBC Cyrmu Wales, Cardiff Blues rugby team, Somali advice and information centre, Somali youth association, Cardiff voluntary community services, Media academy in Cardiff ‘Switching on Young People’, Cardiff Women’s workshop, Wales Contact Centre Forum and a Transgender group in Wales. Early discussions were also held with Celtic Manor (the luxury Golf and Spa resort near Newport which hosted the G8 summit in 2014) with regard to opportunities for student outreach connected to the hospitality facilities.


The wedge shaped building rises from 3 storeys at the south up to the city centre scaled 6 storeys to the north. The building is very open and permeable with over 150m of active frontage encouraging people to observe and interact with the activities within and to foster links with local businesses. Many of the facilities are open to the community including a gym, grocery store, cafe, hair and beauty salon, spa, driving test centre, a suite of Independent Living skills spaces, training and conference rooms and a fine dining restaurant.


Three primary entrances draw inspiration from the characteristic historic arcades of Cardiff and act as a public route, leading you towards the building’s central social heart space. Views from and to this space with its soaring atrium ensure clear wayfinding and navigation around the building. Faculty clusters wrap around and connect across the atrium to a shared resource ‘pod’ containing a library over two levels, ICT spaces and meeting / conferencing / training facilities. The ‘pod’ has a series of stepped south facing active terraces which closely relate to their adjacent internal activities and provide additional area when the weather permits for collaborative group learning or private study, break out, events and hospitality. A sequence of aspirational learning spaces rise through the building culminating in the fine dining ‘belvedere’ restaurant located under the northernmost tip of the roof with views across the city towards the Millennium Stadium to the north and Cardiff bay to the south.


The building was constructed as an insitu concrete frame with post tensioned flat slabs and a steel roof structure. Externally the material palette is a combination of an economical composite steel faced insulated metal panel in two colours to distinguish the special ‘pod’ from the simple ‘wrap’, glazed curtain walling and a buff brick base to the park side podium.

Key Sustainability Points


The City Centre Community Campus for Cardiff and Vale College has given new life to a neglected site close to the heart of Cardiff city centre that sat vacant for a number of years. The brownfield site was formerly a marine engineering works and required remediation. The campus is the first new development within a rundown but well connected light industrial district identified for regeneration and it has already stimulated the progressive redevelopment of this under-utilized swathe of land that links the city centre and Cardiff Bay.


The city centre location was intentional so that the users could benefit from the good public transport infrastructure. It is a 5 minute walk to Cardiff central railway and bus stations and close to a number of bus stops on a variety of routes serving Cardiff and the surrounding regions.  There is an off road cycle path which cuts through Canal Park immediately to the east of the site which forms a strong north-south route and a cycle path which is part of a National Cycle Network to the west of the site running alongside the River Taff.

Sustainable technologies

The quest to maximise the onsite generation of electricity through an array of photo-voltaic panels played a crucial part in the evolution of the wedge shaped massing of the campus building. We aspired to integrate the PV’s into the fabric of the building rather than just placing them on the roof as an afterthought so we inclined a singular roof plane at 16 degrees facing south which we established struck a good balance between orientation, ‘self’ cleaning, access for periodic manual cleaning and inspection and accommodating the range of activities in the spaces below. The 1850m2 / 250kW photovoltaic array generates approximately 15 kWh/m2/annum and contributes to the 40% improvement on CO2 over Part L 2010 and an EPC of A thereby significantly reducing on-going energy costs. Shaping the building so that it was lower to the south also enabled the creation of the sunny south facing external roof terraces on the ‘pod’ building which enjoy views towards Cardiff Bay.


Natural ventilation was maximised as far as possible by locating general teaching classrooms to the perimeter and positioning the rooms which required mechanical ventilation to the atrium facing side such as science labs, ICT suites, and Design and technology workshops. A number of computer rooms adopted thin client technology specifically to minimise ICT equipment heat output. The perimeter rooms integrate into the glazed envelope bespoke externally louvred natural ventilation panels with motorised dampers connected to the BMS. The building has extensive areas of exposed concrete flat slab to benefit from the thermal mass.


The ground floor of the building was elevated slightly to for the ground works made using some of the crushed rubble from the remains of the buildings that previously inhabited the site. The balance of rubble and pile arisings was distributed across the site and mounded in areas to prevent the need to transport and dispose off-site. These mounded areas were then planted as wild flower meadows to enhance the biodiversity of the site.


The building successfully achieved a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating.


“For us, this fantastic new campus is just the beginning. Our goal is to transform education and training across the region and provide the best for everyone in an environment that is inspirational.” CAVC Chair of Governors Geraint Evans

“Our ambition is to support the delivery of truly 21st Century demand-led education and skills training across Cardiff and the regions. CAVC is centre place in supporting economic development that drives South East Wales, creating real community prosperity and new business opportunities. Our entire College eco-system is designed to integrate with local and regional business. Our job is to fully support inward investment with high level skills that benefit everyone. We are, and will remain, a college for the whole community that we serve.” Cardiff & Vale College Chief Executive Mike James



Case Studies Education

Archbishop McGrath Catholic School, Bridgend

Planning and Design Process


Following a thorough site investigation (including discovering a WW2 top secret munitions store under Brackla hill, later to be a Nuclear shelter) and following survey reports, HLM developed 6 sketch options each exploring different massing, use of terrain and sports provision.


These 6 sketch options were presented to the Client team, including WG, School representatives, Archdiocese of Cardiff, Bridgend planners and Governors. At this point a scheme was chosen for further design development. Following this process the design team then took the proposal to the Design Commission for Wales and re-presented to the Client team. The design then went through several iterations to best capture the comments and requirements from all parties. Prior to a planning application being submitted HLM further consulted with all staff, all pupils (through a questionnaire and whole school presentations) and 5 local community presentations within the catchment areas, including Maesteg and Porthcawl. Following the planning approval the design team were honoured by Bridgend Council with a special award ‘Bridgend LABC – Building Excellence Award 2012 – Special Category – Planning award’. HLM then consulted with every teacher again to fine tune the internal finishes, pedagogies and circulation requirements.


Archbishop McGrath are very keen to ensure that Catholicism is at the heart of education, by providing the fullest possible education and curriculum to foster the spiritual, academic, physical, emotional and social development to all of its pupils through all abilities. A key design driver was the inclusion of a chapel positioned at its heart for religious ceremonies and quiet contemplation.


The triple height atrium space, which is at the heart of the school, visually connects all floors and provides a dramatic circulation and seating space, connected off the atrium is the Chapel, reception, senior management offices, main hall, dining hall, first and second floor circulation and some classrooms.


The site terrain was very challenging with vast level changes, potentially difficult rock to excavate and aquifers to cope with – all within a tight site. HLM designed a three storey solution which ensured that there is sufficient playing pitches and provision externally on this site. This avoided having to shuttle pupils to an alternative sports facility. HLM used the levels to their advantage by providing a secondary access at first floor. This provides an added benefit that pupils can access the playing pitches on the level and pupils can circulate freely on the first floor and generally only need to travel up or down one floor.


Ensuring pupils well-being throughout their schooling years by providing opportunities for active and passive supervision is key. HLM have ensured that, where possible, glazed screens have been provided adjacent to classroom doors to provide transparency and passive supervision. The architects also designed the toilets to benefit from passive supervision by providing cubicles only with no doors into the toilet rooms.

Archbishop McGrath School’s overall score has increased year on year since opening in August 2012 and this year they achieved their best ever GCSE results.

Key Sustainability Points

Archbishop received a BREEAM 2008 Excellent score (Outstanding was not available at the time).

Sustainable technology

The school benefits from rain water harvesting, solar collectors, photovoltaic panels and 20% insulation betterment.


There is a new connection to the local nature reserve adjacent to the site.


“Archbishop McGrath Catholic School is profoundly grateful to HLM architects for delivering a school design that is welcoming, inclusive, innovative and at the cutting edge of educational provision in the 21st century.” Reverend Dr Philip Manghan, Headteacher

Picture credits: HLM

Case Studies Education

Wales Institute for Sustainable Education Centre for Alternative Technology

Planning and Design Process


The brief and design were evolved using ‘Planning for Real’ techniques (developed by the Neighbourhood Initiatives Foundation), involving the whole CAT staff body.


WISE will provide people the opportunity to gain vital skills in emerging environmental technologies through its Graduate School of the Environment and short courses. The brief was to provide the following accommodation; 200 seat lecture theatre, 3 workshops, 3 seminar rooms, bio-laboratory, common room/Foyer/Bar, offices for the WISE education staff, 24 double study bedrooms and service accommodation.

Landscape context

Although the site is an unpromising solar one (on the north side of a steep Welsh valley), it has great charm because it was undeveloped waste land for 50 years and has been colonised with diverse species of vegetation and wildlife. The scheme reflects this by creating inward and outward-looking external spaces and framing views of distant mountains. The slate-waste ground conditions allowed the building to be close to existing trees without fear of subsidence – a characteristic which has been exploited.

Sustainability Outcomes


WISE uses natural building materials and methods such as rammed earth in the dramatic curvilinear walls of the lecture theatre, hemp, lime and timber throughout the accommodation and main teaching areas. The sensitive architecture approach achieves a light, warm building.


The building design has an extremely well insulated and air-tight enclosure and uses high-performance glazing to enhance natural day-light and passive heat gain, meaning that energy requirements are minimal.

Natural treatment

Waste and water systems are designed using natural zero energy treatment.

Renewable technologies

The energy sources for space and water heating are either direct solar or bio-fuels. Electricity comes from CAT’s own renewable supply (hydro, wind, PVs and wood-chip CHP).

Related Links
Graduate School of the Environment

Case Studies Education

Cowbridge Comprehensive

Planning and Design Process


The masterplan was informed and evolved through regular consultation and feedback sessions, initially with the school and its pupils and subsequently the local community. A sustainable scheme was designed to fit with the context of the rural landscape, contributing to the well-being of the local community through its provision of sports and cultural activities.


Much of the existing school building stock was inefficient and inflexible. Once these buildings were assessed, it was identified that the school required significant refurbishment including some of the newer buildings, which were retained on sustainability and economic grounds. These now comprise an art block, two teaching blocks including fully refurbished Information and Communication Technology (ICT) suites, the dining hall, science laboratories, study rooms and 6th form classrooms. Seventy per cent of the project comprises a new three-storey building – the heart of the school – and incorporates the main entrance.

Policy context

The final design responds to The Vale of Glamorgan Single Education Plan 2006-2008: Working Together for Children, Young People and Communities across the Vale. Three main functions: health, culture and learning, are included in the new school and are all clearly visible from the main entrance.

Public space

The school provides daily community access to the sports hall, playing fields, main performance hall, meeting rooms, catering facilities and the learning resource area. Public realm at the front of the school is designed to encourage public gathering.


The new three-storey building is set down a storey level, and responds to the natural contours of the site, maintaining the existing visual aspect of a two-storey development from Aberthin Road and protecting views over the site. . The main entrance is accessed via a bridge linking the main drop-off point with the middle of the school, so that no department is more than one floor away.


The layout locates the acoustically sensitive classrooms away from the elevated A48 dual carriageway, maximising capacity for natural ventilation without compromising the acoustic environment.

Construction innovation

Design and construction innovation figured strongly in the design process, with the use of a hybrid structural solution allowing a quicker start onsite, while steelwork was fabricated. Smaller column sizes, rising two instead of three storeys, flat slabs for easier and more efficient distribution of services made the sports hall wall robust enough and flat enough for five aside football. A scissor stair solution simultaneously accommodates escape from the main hall and fire refuges that allow space for a wheelchair user and carer.

Sustainability Outcomes

Local Community

The community was engaged from the outset and the completed school integrates the work of glass artist Catrin Jones, developed in collaboration with pupils, staff and the local community. In constructing the new school the contractor recorded an impressive 91% of labour drawn from South Wales.

Passive sustainable measures

The fabric of the new building was developed to ensure that conductive heat losses were 20% better than the existing requirements for Building Regulations. A number of passive sustainable measures such as rainwater harvesting for flushing toilets, natural ventilation (both cross ventilation and stack effect), and exposed concrete soffits to provide thermal mass were incorporated. Most circulation areas are well lit from roof lights which provide natural ventilation as well as daylight to the upper two floors.

Building reuse

The retention of some existing buildings was an essential part of the cost plan as well as the new masterplan. These buildings were upgraded in both internal fabric and layout; an exercise that improved both the thermal and the acoustic performance, ensuring a new educational environment better suited to 21st century learning.


The new building provides efficient use of internal space; flexible for future transitional changes in the curriculum. Internal walls are constructed from acoustically designed plasterboard partitions, robustly detailed for the school environment. These can be removed to create a different arrangement of smaller or larger spaces, anticipating the move toward the more focused learning environment c2020.


Externally, the landscape design respects existing ecology, while maximising the potential for a variety of playing areas – whether for sporting, educational or recreational uses. A large portion of adjacent land was purchased under a CPO – strictly intended for sports playing fields, with no further building permitted to disturb the local landscape.


“Everyone who visits us is struck by the calm and purposeful atmosphere and the very clear statement which the accommodation makes about the value we place on learning and on our young people. Our pupils show evident delight in the quality of the accommodation and the facilities available to them. Members of staff are thrilled to be able to offer the range and variety of learning activities which previously they could only read about. This is a building which welcomes its users, which inspires us and respects our needs, ambitions and aspirations.”

Margaret Evans, Headteacher

Related Links 





Case Studies Education Public / Cultural

Environmental Resource Classroom, Ebbw Vale

Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council’s vision for the Environmental Resource Centre (ERC) was to:
• Create a high quality educational and cultural facility that celebrates the synergy between heritage, built and natural environments;
• Promote sustainable building and demonstrate renewable energy use; and
• Use Ty Unnos, local materials and suppliers.

The Centre was the first building to be completed on The Works site in Ebbw Vale. It provides educational facilities, run by Gwent Wildlife Trust that allow local school children and members of the community to explore the heritage and ecology of the former steelworks site. The centre provides wildlife courses for people of all ages, specialist courses for school children linked to Foundation and Key Stages in the curriculum, as well as a focal point and meeting place for community environmental activities and conservation volunteering.

The ERC is located adjacent to the former steelworks’ Victorian pump house and filtration tanks, which became a haven for wildlife after closure. The pump house and ponds were used to filter water from the works, before returning it to the River Ebbw. The site and surrounding grasslands support over a hundred plant species and diverse wildlife including insects, birds and reptiles. The Classroom has been positioned to respond to the geometry, biodiversity and industrial context, creating a simple rectilinear form inspired by the form and scale of the pump house and reflecting the grid of concrete foundation remains in the shallow ponds.

Design Process
The ERC responds to the geometry of the adjacent pump house and cooling tanks, creating a simple rectilinear form with two key axes: an oak access deck to exploratory boardwalks, separating the classroom and toilet zones; and separating a storage wall from the served classroom which opens out to views across the filtration tanks and valley beyond.

Internally, prefabricated birch plywood and recycled paper pin board units create a storage wall along the rear of the classroom, containing services, modular storage and wet spaces. The classroom opens to its immediate industrial setting and wider landscaped context through sliding and folding screens. Welsh laminated oak windows open up to the valley and reed beds with integrated vent panels for occupant comfort control. The layered facade creates a play of colour and depth with red, yellow and black steel panels of wildlife super-graphics themed on four local habitats: woodland; industrial; wetland and grassland. The layout of these graphics was informed by consultation with local school children. These are concealed and/or revealed by charred vertical timber cladding around the classroom which blends with both the natural and industrial context. A galvanised steel grating extends over the WC block. An over sailing sinusoidal roof connects the two parts of the building and reinforces its horizontality, as well as providing solar shading to the glazed west elevation.

The Ty Unnos Sitka spruce construction system used in the building was developed by DRU-w and Coed Cymru as a collaborative research project to use a sustainable, low-tech and low-value method of stabilising home grown Spruce for construction. 270x210mm box beams are fabricated from readily available sizes of spruce for use in portal frames. This first prototype comprises 9no. 7.2m portal frames at 2.4m centres with birch and spruce plywood Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) between for floor, walls, doors and roof, giving a U-value of 0.14 W/m2K. Prefabricated off-site, the superstructure was assembled in 10 days.

Sustainability Credentials 

The classroom is a didactic demonstration of sustainability and as such was designed to achieve a 61% reduction in energy use over Building Regulations requirements.

The classroom space has an irregular use pattern with different age groups at different times of day. It has therefore been designed to be adaptable to different needs and conditions. A passive design strategy was developed from the outset. Trickle vents and low level opening panels on the western elevation with high level opening roof lights to the east encourage passive ventilation that can be manually controlled by occupants. The western glazed wall, allowing views across the valley and reed bed, and is protected from solar gain by a large roof overhang and adjustable vertical shutters.

To reduce heat loss SIPs panels provide a U-value of 0.14 W/m2K for floor, walls and roof. The building has been wrapped in an extremely durable EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) rubber membrane increasing air tightness to 3m3/hr/m2@50Pa and keeping moisture out.

To minimise electricity consumption, full height windows and roof lights provide high levels of natural daylight internally, while all external feature lighting is provided by LED strips operated by a combination of timer and photocells.

All rainwater from the roof is directed into a channel around the centre that discharges into and replenishes the ponds.

To meet the irregular use patterns, an air-water-air source heat pump with a 4.2 Coefficient of Performance (CoP) was chosen to provide space heating. This system allows the building users to quickly heat the space at any given moment responding to demand. 2sqm of solar hot water panels have been incorporated to provide for the hot water demand. A district heating system has been proposed as part of the overall site masterplan over the next five years. It is hoped that the centre will be connected to this when the adjacent primary school is built, further reducing the carbon emissions.

As part of the demonstration of and education related to sustainability, all the renewable technology has been located at the entry point to the centre rather than concealed, and all service routes have been left exposed so that connections can be visually made between components.

The centre has been built using an innovative construction system that utilises homegrown, sustainably managed Sitka spruce – Ty Unnos. The system has been designed to add value to a plentiful, but under used, Welsh timber. It is hoped that the centre will be a showcase for the system that will lead to further buildings that source local timbers, rather than importing. The timber components were fabricated off-site and simply erected by hand, reducing the requirement for heavy plant on-site.

All materials and suppliers, where possible, were sourced locally as part of the wider considerations of the regional economy and to reduce the embodied energy related to transport. The layered approach to the construction allows for the simple replacement of external finishes as they reach the end of their lifecycle. The vertical timber cladding has been charred to avoid the use of lacquers and stains. Internally, finishes were specified that were either recycled or recyclable and had a low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content.

Designers Evaluation
The building is designed as a simple layered construction that ‘ghosts’ into the landscape, gradually revealing its form, and the coloured panels make the project unique. Using materials that reference the steelworks context – galvanised steel, charred timber and steel grille- link the building to its past, while bold wildlife graphics link it to the present and its ecologically rich site.

The ERC was the first project to prototype an innovative construction system that has emerged from ongoing research on the use of home grown Welsh timbers in contemporary architecture. Ty Unnos – ‘a house in a night’, is a Sitka spruce construction system, developed as a low tech method to stabilise home grown, low-value Welsh spruce that is currently used for fence posts, pulping for paper and fuel. The system uses standard timber sizes produced by which is fabricated into 270 x 210mm box beams using low tech presses and standard milling machinery. Box beams form frames which are braced by pre-insulated spruce panels to form external and internal walls, floors and roofs.

Related Links
Related Publications
Building Design: Sustainability article (link below, scan attached)
The Works project booklet:

Case Studies Education

St Luke’s CE Primary School

Wolverhampton County Council and Diocese of Lichfield

What we like about this project.

Located at the heart of a close knit, multi-cultural community in the city of Wolverhampton the school has strong links to the local church and community centre. The school has a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

The site.

The school is located on a constrained, sloping site where a tower block once stood, in a predominantly industrial area. It has a strong civic and visual relationship with the adjacent church, a new neighbourhood centre also designed by Architype, and a new village green at the heart of a proposed new housing development. The school creates a new two form entry school for 420 with a 30 place nursery.

The design process.

For a primary school the plan is radical. Corridors are eliminated and combined with specialist spaces to form two generous and airy activity ‘hubs’, around which the classrooms are arranged.

One of the hubs is designed as a large, open plan, double height activity space, shared by Key Stage (KS)1 and KS2 classrooms, allowing a wide range of flexible teaching methods and educational opportunities, whilst expressing the dynamic, in- teractive social ethos of the school.

The second hub forms a shared activity space at the heart of the Foundation Stage unit. This space also provides a generous circulation area for KS1 and KS2 children moving through to the halls, creating overlaps and links between all ages and engendering a feeling of one unified school.

A flexible range of rooms are available and accessible for community use, whilst maintaining the security of the school. These overlapping and complex requirements are achieved in a simple, legible layout. Large sliding glazed screens enable ground floor classrooms to extend outside under a generous canopy, which also provides solar shading and shelter.

The architects’ response to the brief and limited budget was to integrate sustainability from the first principles.

Sustainability credentials.

The school was the first primary school in Britain to achieve BREEAM Excellent status. The plan and the section are integrated to create an architecture that moderates the environment efficiently and achieves: good day lighting; maximum solar gain whilst preventing overheating; natural ventilation in every room; and is delightful and uplifting, but provides practical and purposeful spaces.

St Luke’s is one of the buildings forming part of the Architype Oxford Brookes University Knowledge Transfer Partnership research programme. It is being monitored over a two year period, to include en- ergy and water consumption, temperature, humidity and CO2 performance, and user feedback using the Usable Building Trust analysis tool. Feedback from this monitoring will be reported in the autumn of 2011.