Blog: Project of the Year under £10m SECBE Awards 2019 finalist - Harris Aspire Academy

03 May 2019

sponsored by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield

Professional Skills Sixth Form, Harris Aspire Academy, South Norwood, London - submitted by ADP Architecture

Reuse and adaptation contributes to regeneration and sustainability on many levels; adding to place identity and social cohesion. This refurbishment not only makes economic use of a building that has stood empty for five years; it addresses the community need to provide construction skills courses in Croydon.

ADP and Galliford Try recently gave a joint presentation on 'Re-purposing Existing Buildings into Schools' at the Education Estates Conference in 2018. They presented before & after photos and described the collaborative process the design and contractor teams went through. There was keen interest from the Department for Education, other contractors, estate teams and architects as to how they successfully transformed a disused police station into a construction skills facility.

There is a misconception that a refurbishment will result in a compromise to the building design. Their scheme shows that it is possible to make a re-purposed building feel like a bespoke building, demonstrating there are some inherent benefits over a new build. For example, a typical new build Department for Education school will have a “punched window” arrangement; the former police station offered continuous ribbon windows on three sides of the classrooms in some cases. This was seen as a positive from the Art Department who had great views and ideal daylight levels for drawing and painting. The Department for Education remarked on how impressed they were at the transformation and indicated that they would take other contractors to the scheme to show them what was possible.

Amidst rising rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm in young people, it is essential that building designs support health and wellbeing. According to a theory by Edward O Wilson, humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature; if we lose that relationship for a long period, we can start to show signs of stress. The Biophillia design concept was incorporated to provide the essential psychological and physiological benefits that exposure to nature offers.

They inherited a building that had no natural daylight or views to nature in some areas. To counteract the psychological effects of this, they introduced a number of full height supergraphics illustrating natural landscapes at each floor. These themed supergraphics, for example rivers, meadows and cityscapes) not only gave the impression of spaciousness in the corridors, they add focal interest and facilitate wayfinding as they are easy to remember. A complementary calm, neutral and natural palette of colours were chosen for feature walls and floors to reinforce the Biophillia approach. In the basement, they installed a false skylight with a large format image of blue sky and tree foliage, backlit by LEDs to alleviate what could have been a claustrophobic, ordinary space. The Academy are delighted at the feature “skylight” and showcase this to all visitors.

“I’ll certainly be bringing one contractor to the school to show them what can be achieved from a police station refurb.”
Gary Herbert Project Director, Free Schools Capital  


  • They exceeded the Stakeholders and Users’ expectations in providing a building that isn’t seen by the Academy as second best to a new build; it is a building bespoke to them.
  • In a time of limited available land for development and budgets, this scheme successfully repurposed an existing building that has stood empty for five years.
  • Use of Biophillia design in a cost effective way, puts the wellbeing of the students as a design priority.

For more details:

Visit ADP Architecture.

The SECBE 2019 Building Project of the Year under £10m Award is sponsored by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.

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