Learning from Nature: Olga Primary school in Architecture Today
A London primary school by Architecture Initiative forms a strong connection with its site
Conceived as a ‘garden oasis’ in the heart of east London, Architecture Initiative’s Olga Primary School replaces an outdated single-storey structure, and accommodates more than 700 pupils. Positioned at the edge of the site boundary, the £10m building acts as a ‘buffer’, separating generous landscaping, including terraced gardens and trees, from neighbouring residential blocks.
The plan organises 25 classrooms around a naturally-lit atrium, with the age of pupils increasing as the building rises. The three-storey atrium creates a circulation core that divides the structure into two distinct volumes – one accommodating the teaching centre, and the other containing administrative and communal spaces. This arrangement allows the building to be used by the local community outside school hours.
The vertical nature of the design has enabled the school’s capacity to increase threefold, without negatively impacting the site and surrounding landscape, explains the architect. It also means that all year groups have direct access to outside space – the ground floor to the gardens, the first floor to terraces, and the second floor to the roof – encouraging an awareness of ecology and nature.
The external materials are intended to complement the surrounding context, and include London stock bricks on the teaching centre with carefully proportioned windows responing to the local vernacular. By contrast, the administration building is clad in Corten steel, taking its inspiration from the warm autumnal colours of the woodland trees.
The practice collaborated on the interior fit-out, opting for a small palette of nature-inspired aquas and limes to complement the pale concrete finishes and Scandinavian style birch-ply joinery. Bold and bright graphics – differentiated for each year group – ascend the building.
Designed to BREEAM Excellent, the highly insulated structure incorporates high levels of daylighting, natural ventilation, and heat recovery systems.
Images by Andy Stagg