St Mary Magdalene Academy

  • St Mary Magdalene Academy hall
  • St Mary Magdalene Academy outside building
  • St Mary Magdalene Academy walkway

1 / Introduction

A pioneering new school in Islington, the St Mary Magdalene Academy posed unique challenges to BuroHappold’s design team. Squeezed into a very tight inner city space, the existing school had to stay open throughout construction, in addition to offering impeccable green credentials. To achieve the client’s brief BuroHappold offered a variety of innovative solutions to the many complex issues, resulting in a school which provides the optimum learning environment for both staff and students.

This new all-through school for children aged three to eighteen backs onto pavements, houses and gardens, often with less than a room’s width between them. Our teams needed to think creatively to minimise disruption to the neighbouring buildings while also creating a school with outstanding facilities fit for 21st century students. A good example of this is the initiation of a phasing programme which enabled the existing primary and nursery schools to remain open throughout construction. While works were underway we created viewing galleries which enabled pupils to see their new school taking shape as well as helping staff to incorporate the process into the curriculum.

With space being so limited, we also designed upwards in a way rarely seen in schools. This required cutting edge problem solving, taking into account the varying uses of the rooms, while maintaining the architect’s aesthetic vision and ensuring the workability of foundations and retaining structures. We sited the Academy’s main hall below ground level, with a sports hall on top of it and a five-a-side football pitch on the roof, all to maximise the space available. We sat the sports hall on its own structural frame to minimise noise – thinking outside the box to ensure sporting activities cannot disturb exams in the main hall below.

Central to the design is a naturally-lit atrium which allows maximum natural light into the building; a key requirement of both Academy and architect. It contains a library housed in a pod over two levels, with a chapel on top. To this end the design team solved several problems at once: making best use of the space available, unifying the visual layout, and saving energy.

In addition to the atrium, carefully-placed rooflights even penetrate areas which are largely below ground. A brise-soleil, which cleverly does not block views, reduces solar gain while providing privacy for residents.

A key challenge for the design team was to enable the Academy to meet its target of 10% renewable energy. We introduced energy-saving measures such as earth tubes to bring cool air in, while solar panels, green roofs and a biomass boiler ensure an excellent carbon footprint. In addition to meeting its carbonsaving targets, our design also assists with the student’s environmental education – the solar panels and green roofs are all in a prominent position and can easily be incorporated into the curriculum.

With so many complexities involved, our teams worked closely with both architect and client to deliver a truly ground-breaking school for all its occupants.


Key facts

  • Pioneering new school
  • Outstanding facilities for 21st century students
  • Five-a-side football pitch on the roof

The Project Details

Client: London Diocesan Board for Schools

Architect: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

BuroHappold services: Structural engineering, building services engineering, civil engineering, ground engineering, acoustics, CDM co-ordination