Bellenden Primary

Cottrell & Vermeulen, London, 2018


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Classrooms, the assembly-cum-dining hall and stairwells all give directly off the playground spaces 

Anthony Coleman     Download Original

  • Classrooms, the assembly-cum-dining hall and stairwells all give directly off the playground spaces    
  • The distinctive canary-yellow gables    
  • The polycarbonate cladding    
  • A sheltered space for outdoor play    
  • The design makes use of outdoor space    
  • The reception class and nursery on the ground floor can be combined to bring the youngest children together and can operate independently from the school    
  • The polycarbonate panels maintain privacy while letting in light    
  • Cloakroom space    
  • Circulation space    
  • Stairway lit by natural light through the cladding panels    
  • Floorplans    
  • Sections    
  • Detail section through building envelope    

A newly built state primary in south London.

Bellenden is the result of an ambitious two-phase schools expansion programme in Southwark, which has seen 11 schools extended or renewed in order to cater for an increased need for primary school places in the borough.

Its triangular site is relatively constrained, locked in by terraced streets. One corner faces east, bounded by a walkway which connects to two alleys leading off between buildings from busy Peckham Rye. These link along the site’s northern and southern edges to a passage running alongside garden walls to the north and a cul-de-sac lined by a terrace to the south. 

Three elongated, two-storey blocks, mostly consisting of paired classrooms – with one bridging over the entrance – loosely describe an L-shaped cluster, cranking around the north-west corner of the site. These are connected on the south side to a more expressive single-storey block, arranged around the larger communal and specialised rooms: dining room, hall and music room, their brick façades hugging the edge of the street with circular windows signalling the music room’s specialised functions. 

A dark grey Belgian brick with matching mortar joints is used to face the concrete-framed ground floor. Projecting headers gently pattern this in places, picking up a similar detail on surrounding houses. Above this, a concrete slab supports the lighter-weight steel frame structure of the first floor. This is partly faced in brick again, but here expressed as framed panels. These alternate with translucent yellow polycarbonate panels, which maintain privacy while letting in light.

Cottrell & Vermeulen decided to minimise internal circulation spaces, in particular eliminating ground-floor corridors as much as possible. So classrooms, the assembly-cum-dining hall and stairwells all give directly off the playground spaces, with covered movement between them enabled under the protective overhang of the upper-storey concrete floorplate. Even three of the four stairs (excepting a protected fire stair and lift) that lead up to the first-floor classrooms are technically outdoor and treated as external, unheated, covered spaces.

The completed building provides a colourful and vibrant learning environment for its pupils, with high quality finishes and playful design features. The use of round windows, contrasting materials and colour has created a unique building that contributes positively to its surroundings.


  • Begun: Jun 2015
  • Completed: Jun 2018
  • Floor area: 2,200m2
  • Sector: Education
  • CO2 Emissions: 12.1kg/m2/year
  • Address: Dewar St, London, SE15 4JP, United Kingdom

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