Kirklees Media School: Construction & Performance

The Kirklees Media and Studio School was part of a larger project covering the rationalization of Netherhall Learning Campus. Dating from the 1950’s this site included Infant, Junior and High Schools as well as an Adult Learning Centre and a Pupil Referral Unit.

The Studio School itself is a revolutionary international concept intended to bring business into education for 14 to 19 year olds providing vocational education with an emphasis on practical rather than academic skills. Every Studio School is unique in that it specializes in a particular industry. Kirklees council wished to build on the local reputation for creative media by creating an institution which would work closely with local business in the fields of;

·       Performing Arts;

·       Graphic design

·       Media and film

·       Fine arts

·       Textile design.


The existing high school would provide part of the facilities for the Studio School on a shared basis. After an extensive feasibility study, Stephen George & Partners recommended that the optimum location for the new facility would be an extension to an existing building within the high school complex. This would allow access to existing facilities as well as provision for future expansion.

The Studio school itself takes the form of a two storey block which steps down a slope, in turn pivoting around a central stair and performance space constructed as a “hinge.” This allows the form to follow the existing topography with the minimum of engineering and disruption to the open plan spaces which are integral to the Studio School concept.

The client was very supportive of a low energy and environmentally low impact solution.

Operational energy requirements were minimised by a passive ventilation and cooling system together with low energy heating. Key aspects were as follows:

·       Semi exposed concrete soffits providing thermal mass and an opportunity for night cooling

·       Over window vents linked to an automated opening system

·       External solar shading system

·       Underfloor heating served by air source heat pumps.

This strategy resulted in a solution which required a very low capital expenditure and eventual running costs.


The building fabric was designed to incorporate low impact materials to reduce embodied energy and also to impact favourably on air quality and maintenance costs.

The envelope was constructed from Durisol blocks. These are similar to the well-known ICF blocks but are formed from recycled timber pallets, chipped and bound via a cementitious compound. Insulation is integrated within the block and after being loose laid at a rapid rate, reinforcement bars are inserted vertically and concrete pumped into the voids. The external finish was then to be slef coloured lime-based render.

The Durisol offered a very rapid rate of construction and the product supplier provided the little training necessary to the main contractor on site.

One of the other key low impact materials selected was for the windows which were specified as being pultruded glass fibre. These, as well as being self-coloured, have a very low embodied energy and allow large glazed areas with an A+ rating. At the time of construction, this would have proved very difficult to achieve with Aluminium frames.


The flat roof finish was specified as EPDM with a high recycled content

In an effort to improve air quality and reduce the costs and environmental impact of ongoing maintenance, a design strategy of omitting all applied finishes was adopted. This included;

·       Integrated colour lime based external render

·       Self-coloured Pultruded fibre windows

·       Internal plaster finish replaced by naturally white quartz waste based finish. As well as not requiring painting, this offered a more robust finish than gypsum plaster

·       Unfinished stainless steel skirtings and architraves

·       Laminate faced internal doors.

·       Solid laminate reveal linings to all openings (for robustness and to allow for “grubby fingers.”)


However, not every part of this particular strategy did not make it to the final building. A change of government part way through the extended design period meant that cost savings were required. Consequently, let on a design & build contract, the contractor could offer lower capital cost solutions based on traditional painted materials. The roof covering was also altered to an alternative single ply membrane.


Although consequently very successful and greatly appreciated by the staff and pupils who use the Studio School every day, we felt that several important lessons were learned regarding use of the innovative materials selected. These included:

·       Ensuring that any initial technical or financial appraisal of a material takes into account every design feature demanded of it. Buildings are very rarely boxes with little square windows!;

·       Also that any specialist engineering input required is taken into account in the early stages;

·       Experience of using an innovative material is very desirable if one is to avoid potentially expensive learning curves;


And finally, the importance of the integrated design team (including the client and contractor,) sharing an understanding of the key environmental aims cannot understated. We were very lucky that this was the case on this project, ultimately leading to a successful outcome.


·       Name of project : Kirklees Media and Studio School


·       Architectural practice : Stephen George & Partners


·       Location  : Netherhall Learning Campus, Rawthorpe, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire


·       Type  / function of building : School for vocational learning 14-19 year olds


·       Size : Approx 1500sq.m


·       Completion date : October 2013


·       Client : Kirklees Council


·       Contractor : Sir Robert MacAlpine


·       Design team / other consultants :

o   Project Management – Semperian & Telereal Trillium

o   M&E  - Jacobs

o   Structural concept – BWB