Thomas Deacon Academy

Peterborough, UK

Thomas Deacon is the UK’s largest academy, with 2,200 students from three pre-existing schools. The project brief called for the design to “promote the specialist science and mathematics nature of the academy and the concept of entrepreneurial skills”.


The Academy strived to move towards a style of teaching that encompasses a more ‘university’ style of learning; where many traditional lessons are replaced with lectures, seminars and tutorials. To achieve this while ensuring that students felt welcome when they first started the Academy, the Trust wanted six separate colleges to be created on campus.

Creating a flexible, secure and stimulating learning environment for students at the UK’s largest academy. Image: Buro Happold


The six colleges define the curved form of the building, and in turn the span of the roof that encloses the spaces. Following exploration of dozens of potential roof designs, Buro Happold’s experts created a dynamic and efficient curved steel grid-shell roof that not only offers shape to the concourse space, but also assists the ventilation strategy of the building, provides a smoke reservoir in the event of a fire and celebrates the Academy’s specialisms.

As well as defining the six college buildings, the orientation of the school was chosen to limit solar gain and the main structural frame was constructed from high thermal mass concrete as part of a natural ventilation solution

The building’s expansive internal space provides a well-lit, flexible environment which is considered by students and teachers to be inspirational as well as creating a feeling of belonging. Additionally, our people flow specialists designed a people flow model that predicted circulation patterns and areas likely to become congested, and then designed in measures for safe movement.

Our people flow specialists modelled circulation patterns within the expansive interior spaces, and incorporated measures to ensure safety and ease of movement. Image: BHE


Despite the challenges and restricted budget, work was completed at the Academy on time and within budget. Our structural solution for the roof design has provided a stunning visual statement for the Thomas Deacon Academy, delivering a building that students feel proud to attend, while the work that we carried out to understand how students would move around the space has ensured a safe and secure environment for all users.

The curved steel grid-shell roof that shapes the concourse incorporates measures to assist the ventilation and fire safety strategies of the building. Image: Buro Happold
Image: Buro Happold
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