Eleanor Palmer Science Lab is a learning environment for young children conceived as a ‘wonder room’ for enquiry and experimentation. Located in Kentish Town, London, it is designed by AY Architects who have also designed the Montpelier Community Nursery nearby.
The Lab is one of London’s new facilities built to promote the teaching of science and technology in primary school communities. Delivered for a modest construction budget of £330,000, it is not an adapted or extended classroom, like most other projects, but a model typology of an autonomous building that can accommodate science-related activities for up to 31 pupils.
During the design process we considered how architecture could be manifested through the means of the school curriculum: processes, forces, materials and living things. We imagined that over time the building would become a repository of artefacts, instruments and constructions, like a contemporary room size cabinet of curiosities.
The building is entirely made of timber: sawn spruce beams, columns and joists in standard sizes, spruce and birch faced plywood built-in furniture and external hard wearing Siberian larch cladding. The structure and materials are fully exposed internally, making the architectural construction visible to young learners.
The space is flood with natural light and air and the smell of wood. A pair of triangular roof volumes is lifted above the main space giving generous daylight, ventilation and additional height for experiments. Two functional walls with sinks, work surfaces, shelving and display define an adaptable free space that spills out onto the playground and a science garden (with play equipment designed by Unit Lab and Electric Pedals).
The building is a simple, carefully crafted and environmentally minded piece of architecture that creates a sensitive but distinctive addition to the local urban fabric. Pulled back from its Victorian boundary wall, the roof form reduces its impact on the street while adding to its character. A deep window is punched through the wall, creating a surprise in the monotony of the street, asign for the Lab and a much-needed visual connection between the school and the neighbourhood.
This project is an example of our philosophy of passive environmental design and how architecture can be developed to reduce the reliance on energy-consuming equipment. It is based on an integrated passive design approach where the servicing of the building is kept simple. The objective was to create a comfortable environment where environmental factors generate a meaningful part of the architecture.