architecture design sustainability

Britain’s greenest school building

Building of the week: Ashmount Primary and Bowlers Nursery.

Set in my old stomping ground of Islington, this is a primary school for the future. It’s the result of some ambitious ideas from the local council, the rather visionary Crouch Hill Park carbon-negative development. They had a patch of north London brown-field land that needed regenerating, and they decided to develop the land with zero waste during demolition and construction. Any new buildings on the site would be zero carbon when operating, and there would be no parking on site.

The redevelopment includes a youth centre housed in an old substation, an ecology centre, parklands, and a new primary school and nursery. Because it’s set in a park, the new school was designed around its settings, keeping the public realm in mind. Sight-lines through the park were considered, and the school layout was apparently inspired by a treehouse.

The building itself makes the best possible use of natural light and ventilation. It is highly insulated, and uses a combined heat and power (CHP) system to provide electricity and heating, and also to illuminate the park at night. Excess heat is piped to nearby apartments, making the school a net energy exporter.

Because the site has no parking, other than disabled or service vehicles, priority has been given to bikes. The school has cycle storage and showers to encourage staff to cycle to work. Waste shower water is collected, along with rainwater from the roof, and is used to flush toilets and water the plants.

In keeping with the on-site ecology centre, there are various measures to support biodiversity. The building has green roofs, and incorporates bird and bat boxes into the design, so that it will house more than schoolchildren.

Ashmount Primary cost £13 million, and will open in September 2012. It is the first school building to get an ‘outstanding’ from BREEAM, the UK’s leading green building certification. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.


  1. I know one person at BRE, but they’re a graphic designer and wouldn’t be best placed to answer questions about specific projects. I’ll ask them though, and see if they can pass the query on. Your best bet might be Islington Council, see if you can find out who wrote the initial brief – that’s the boldest bit of the whole thing really.

  2. A well written article; I have been too close to this project for too long to see the wood for the trees (and there are a LOT of trees). I am on the Governors at Ashmount and would be happy to have a conversation with Ben Niblett about what brought the project about.

    By the way the 13 million figure is for the whole project, new building for the primary school and a separate, independent, voluntary nursery, new youth facility, re instatement of the park etc. The school (alas!) only gets part of the money….

      1. I just thought you would like to know that the overall project is ambitious; if you were “just” doing a school it would be less expensive.

        I will be particularly interested to see how the CHP works out in practice -tariffing is proving not straightforward partly as it is novel enough that predicting costs difficult. However the building we are leaving, all clad in glass, is very hot in summer and in winter the most expensive school of its size to heat in London, so we should experience a bit of an improvement.

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