St Gabriel’s CofE Academy

vHH were commissioned by Urban & Civic PLC in 2015 to design the first primary school for their Houlton development, which is a new residential scheme of up to 6200 new homes on the former GPO international radio station at Rugby.  One of the key requirements of the brief was that it could be expanded as the community grows. Our design provided one form-of-entry in the first phase, which opened in 2018, including the key communal spaces and facilities, and provided for growth with  simple classroom blocks as the school numbers grow to three forms-of-entry. These were designed to be delivered in the future with minimum disruption as pupils needs grew, linked by a covered external walkway.

Due to the successful housebuilding programme and strong growth in pupil numbers at Houlton Secondary School, it soon became apparent that St Gabriel’s would require more capacity, requiring Phase 2 to be delivered in 2021 & 2022 – a two classroom extension of the Phase 1 block and a stand-alone teaching block, delivering six classrooms and some small group rooms. The phase 2 block is entirely electric, and was certified as meeting the AECB Carbonlite New Build standard in November 2023. Its use of a timber frame and lean substructure minimises its Whole Life Carbon emissions






























There are many aspects of the building that are really outstanding and make this a lovely place to work and educate. The comment I hear most is that the school has an incredible sense of space and light. Even on a dull day our classrooms are flooded with natural light, the full height windows, light wells, wide corridors and vision panels all contribute to this. Our children, staff and families are all loving settling in and making use of this fabulous building as they go about the business of learning as a communityAndrew Taylor, Headteacher, St Gabriel’s CofE Primary School

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The building is designed to have a strong civic presence, with a small pedestrian square framed by the taller roofs of the halls to establish a distinctive place in the new community. The surrounding landscape, designed by Bradley Murphy Design, provides a safe and secure environment and excellent external learning environment. Every classroom has direct access to the outside play areas and sports facilities for the young pupils.

  • Project Team

    • Client Urban & Civic

The internal areas have been carefully designed to create a range of comfortable, stimulating teaching spaces. These include placing the school’s library and large breakout areas at the core of the plans, avoiding long corridors and providing a variety of teaching spaces. As one of the foci of a new community, it was important that the school hall could be used out-of-hours, without the rest of the school being open.

Good acoustics, daylighting and natural ventilation provide appropriate learning environments throughout the school. Particular attention has been given to passive supervision, both internally and externally, which enables flexible and independent learning, good communication and sharing of resources between teachers and classes.

4 (2)

Phase 1 was designed with gas heating and natural ventilation, to comply with Building Regulations. Mindful of the climate collapse, and with our shared experience with Urban & Civic of delivering the new Houlton School blocks to very low energy use, we wished to improve on Building Regulations performance for Phase 2.

At vHH’s suggestion, U&C in 2020 commissioned vHH and Etude to undertake a simple Post Occupancy Evaluation of Phase 1, using a mixture of qualitative (meters and sensor data) and quantitative (surveys and interview) data. The POE demonstrated that whilst the various users appreciated the layout, rooms and daylighting of the building, there was significant variability in CO2 levels and comfort, and relatively high energy bills.

Consequently, our design for the new classroom block utilises hybrid ventilation with mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR), has a much more energy efficient envelope, and is fully electric. It is designed to attain the AECB Building Certification, which requires excellent building fabric performance, and its energy use to be far better than required by the current Building Regulations. As the new building has fully electric heating, its operational carbon emissions/m2 is about 16% of Phase 1.