The Rivergate Centre

A focal point for an emerging community

The key design concept which vHH worked with LBBD to hold on to, even as the complexity of the stakeholders using the centre grew, was to create a single shared entrance, the heart of the centre. An arrival to the facilities you know about and an entrance to discover others you weren’t aware of.  A place that opens up a wider range of opportunities to everyone using the building, and allows people to share knowledge and ideas.

The design of the shared community school encourages users to take ownership and responsibility for their emerging neighbourhood. 

“The shared outdoor areas and public square will be an inviting space for residents to visit and the Rivergate Centre sits at the heart of the new development, creating a new destination for the Borough. The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham are very pleased with the design work of vHH, they have identified the needs of existing residents and created a new and attractive building for a number of community uses that will be the cornerstone of a new community at Barking Riverside.”

Jeremy Grint, Divisional Director of Regeneration and Economic Development at London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

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vHH design integrates shared facilities for community groups and support for lifelong learning inside and outside the school. It aims to be an exemplar of: “Using Education and related community services as a means of changing attitudes and behaviour to foster respect and communal action” Smith Institute

Set in a model sustainable development, on a brownfield former industrial site, the school follows and feeds into these environmental credentials. Biodiversity is encouraged through living roofs providing habitat for invertebrates. Further, the diverse range of habitats within the landscape design, using local, native species, are a valuable learning resource for the school. 

Rain gardens and swales feeding into site-wide rainwater storage ponds, create a vibrant environment and Sustainable Urban Drainage, SUDS, that matches ‘greenfield’ run-off rates by using on-site attenuation.

  • Project Team

    • Architect And Lead Consultant vHH
  • Project Details

    • Location: Barking
      Client: London Borough Barking & Dagenham / Barking Riverside
      Area: 15500 m2
  • Project Awards

    • Runner Up, Regeneration - RICS Awards

The design stretched the form of the building, long and low along the north boundary; sheltering the external play areas and rigorously achieving a north/south orientation to classrooms, hence minimising solar gain and glare from the west, whilst allowing plenty of natural light and ventilation. This creates a comfortable environment, together with calm acoustic design which allows teachers and pupils to be heard clearly.

The new shared entrance to the school and community facilities faces the colonnaded retail units and flats. It is designed to be a lively and naturally safe place for school drop off and pickups, a quick local shop, and a place for community events which can spill out and animate the square.

It was uplifting to see the square fully used when we visited the school a few years later; to see parents waiting, greeting friends and family, and children delighting in the freedom of being let out of school.

Seeing the building at various stages of completion and designing school provision around the facilities has been the most exciting and fulfilling post I have had in my teaching career.


The new public square is ‘bookended’ by the Clocktower marking the entrance from the East route and the Place of Worship, visible from across the Ripple Valley indicating the community facilities from afar.

Classroom clusters create bases for year groups and generous shared break-out spaces allow flexible teaching activities with small class groups or mixed year groups.

The flexibility of the school was demonstrated early, as the final user was not known at design stage, and staff have enthusiastically embraced the teaching and learning opportunities.

Project Timeline

  • 2009

    The Site

  • Masterplanning
  • Concept design
  • Planning


  • Construction
  • Progress on site
  • 2011