Tensile Structures – The Thomas Aveling School

The Thomas Aveling School 

The Thomas Aveling School is a co-educational non-selective secondary school in Rochester, one of the Medway Towns. Having converted to academy-status in 2011, the school occupies a large site with playing fields, sports courts and specialist teaching areas for Science, Design Technology, Art and Sport in addition an amazing Performing Arts centre with full dance and drama studios.

As is the case in many educational facilities the school buildings spread over a large area with logical routes between departments dependent on outdoor links, meaning that in wet weather students had to take much longer alternative routes, also causing corridors to become very congested.

Alongside this, dining space was another major challenge for the school. A single lunch session for over 1000 students created huge pressure on the dining hall, and in wet weather other spaces had to be used creating unwanted pressure on staff for supervision and clean-up requirements. And due to the school’s proximity to the River Medway, in the outdoor areas where students ate hundreds of seagulls would descend after every break and lunch time to scavenge for dropped food.

For several years the Senior Leadership Team had been looking at different options to resolve these problems and one idea kept returning: covering the whole courtyard area formed by the main blocks of the school. The dining hall already opened onto the space, which contained several small covered seating areas. In addition, the area encompassed many sharp changes in level that made large areas unusable.

Having previously gained planning permission for such a structure but failed to gain the required funding, by 2018 the school were ready to push forward with the project. Streetspace were approached to bid for the project, and the school were pleased with our proposal that involved creating two large level areas joined by steps and covered with a combination of four bespoke tensile membrane canopies, with vertical façade mesh panels providing full enclosure of the space.

Covering 1,150m2 – one-third of an acre – the area is surfaced with hard wearing block paving. LED lighting means the space can be used in the evening hours and is a safe circulation space especially during events like parent evenings. While the façade mesh panels allow airflow through the space, the school have commented that the area remains around 5 degrees warmer than the outside temperature in cold weather, and stays cooler during warmer weather.

The tensile membrane has a 40% diffused light transmission which keeps the whole area bright and airy even in cloudy weather, while blocking all harmful UV rays. The project has had a welcome side-effect of shading numerous classrooms which adjoin the space, reducing solar gain and overheating.

The result is a stunning space where the students can eat, socialise and play all year round; a tangible statement of the school’s commitment to continually invest in the mental, social and physical wellbeing of its students.

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