Case Study

Learning from experience...

Bow School

London / 2014


At Bow we were faced with a particularly challenging site and working for a repeat contractor client, Bouygyes UK, who needed to be convinced by a new design approach. They approached us because their Building Schools for the Future (BSF) Stage 1 proposals for Bow School were over budget and both the Local Authority and the school governors were unhappy with them. Within a month of our appointment we came up with a successful design; a simple solution to a complex problem. It was less expensive to build, provided better facilities and was unanimously approved by all concerned.


Our concept of three linked buildings enclosing the south-facing grounds delivered excellent teaching space and a diverse landscape.  The Main Block consists of north and south facing classrooms wrapped around two atria. The three rooftop multiple use games areas (MUGAs) on the roof maximise the school’s external space.


The site for Bow School, adjacent to the Blackwall Tunnel approach road, was blighted by the poor air quality and noise pollution. It was further complicated by the presence of a huge sewer crossing below the site with a 16m wide exclusion zone for piles. However, there are dramatic views over Bow Locks and the Limehouse Cut, and longer views to Canary Wharf to the south and the Olympic Park to the north.





The culminating scheme in Tower Hamlets’ BSF programme, the school was designed after all BSF schools already in planning had had 20% of their budgets removed. This resulted in a very tight budget and a continual focus on value for money. By being focused on where to spend money, and working with the School, Local Authority and Bouygues, we ensured that we still delivered a highly  effective and well-built school.

How we worked

We restarted the project from the beginning, and worked closely with Bouygues right through to the end. Along with Bouygues we tested our proposals and refined the design together at fortnightly meetings with the school and the Local Authority.

The Headteacher, who had experience from a previous BSF project, was open to our ideas and supportive of them. She wanted to have open classrooms as well as open circulation, and maximising opportunities for informal supervision, all of which we agreed would improve pupils’ behaviour and their learning environment.


We worked together to extract the maximum possible value from the budget, through design and construction. Bow School was delivered using Building Information Modelling (BIM), which was particularly useful given the size and complexity of the project. It resulted in significantly more efficient coordination across the team and a quicker programme.



Making it happen

By keeping the Dining Pavilion and Assembly Hall as separate blocks these facilities can be used throughout the day without disruption to other teaching spaces; as individual buildings these can also be used by the community. In a predominantly Muslim catchment area specialist prayer facilities provided in the Assembly Hall, and all the other large spaces, can be used for prayer during Ramadan.




The Main Block to the north contains the reception, as well as nearly all the teaching areas, facilities for a large Sixth Form and ancillary functions. Colour is used imaginatively within the building to aid orientation. The walls of the Main Block span right over the sewer exclusion zone. A large, sculptural set of external stairs provides the link between the landscape and the main building, and a place to sit and socialise.

The building’s compact form is very efficient due to the small area of facade relative to volume. This reduced the building cost and also means that it loses less heat. The sealed facade is insulated and the building is served by an efficient plant with mechanical ventilation and heat recovery, resulting in lower running costs. The school is designed to be BREEAM ‘Excellent’.

The creative response to the challenges of the site and the constant focus on value for money has delivered an exemplary school on a tight budget.





‘Very many thanks to you and all of your teams for the huge amount of work that went int o the preparation for planning permission... We think that we have a great building to look forward to and one that will really support the delivery of inspirational learning experiences for students in this area for many years.’

Cath Smith. Headteacher at Bow School.




Bouygues Uk









Our Role

Architect And Lead Consultant

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