Kingsdale School, Southwark, London


In 2005 dRMM completed a major transformation to the layout of Kingsdale School in the form of a lightweight ETFE roof canopy, suspended over two external courtyards, which created new internal spaces for circulation, dining and assembly, surrounding a free-standing library and auditorium. The architect’s latest project for the school is a new sports hall and music school to replace inadequate existing facilities.

The two new buildings run along the eastern boundary of the school site and are linked by a common entrance to create a new ‘gatehouse’ to the school grounds.

The sports building houses a 4-court multi-use sports hall, flexible activity/dance mezzanine, changing and store facilities and spectator areas. The music school houses 5 new classrooms, 6 practice rooms, staff offices and staff social space as well as a large new performance space.


Project description

Although functionally different, both music and sport require a high degree of enclosure. A sports building is necessarily a functional single volume, large and high, without windows in walls to avoid glare and distraction. Blank internal walls are preferred as they offer rebound surfaces for ball games. A music school is also essentially introverted and needs to be sound-proofed. To accommodate these requirements, both buildings have large areas of uninterrupted wall surface; the entrance/staircase which links them is, by contrast, largely glazed. Yet the two buildings are far more than ‘boxes’. The music school, appropriately harpsichord-shaped, and the sports building sit beneath a surprisingly twisted roof plane. The roof structure itself is relatively simple, a series of glulam beams spanning across the short sections of both buildings. But as they run along the building, the beams are delicately skewed to create a rhomboid roof profile. In the music school, reverberation is necessarily reduced by this rhomboid geometry. In the largely windowless bulk of the sports hall, the skewed beams cause the roof profile to dip, as a neighbourly gesture, to acknowledge the lower scale of the adjacent housing beyond the site boundary. Finally, the two roof planes slope towards one another to embrace the new entrance.


Materials and method of construction

The adoption of new construction methods and material is something for which the practice has earned a reputation. For both the music and sports buildings, a new system of prefabricated solid timber panels were used for the main load-bearing construction of both the walls and the roof above the glulam beams. The rudimentary, but practical, giant-sized ‘plywood’ panels were formed of cross-laminated softwood, milled and fabricated in Austria. The panels are available in theoretical lengths up to 65 metres but their dimensions at Kingsdale School were determined by the size of a trans-European truck. Positioned vertically, in their dense loadbearing capacity, the panels provide both external walls and internal partitions, while they are also laid in plank form on the glulam beams to form the roof. Thermal insulation is fixed to the external face of the cross-laminated structural wall panels and a profiled aluminium sheet acts as a rainscreen, completing the sandwich externally.

The use of cross-laminated timber panels offered many other advantages including improved on-site erection periods, sustainability, omission of wet trades and factory quality finishes. The superstructure was substantially erected from pre-fabricated elements within a 10 week period. With this erection, approximately 80% of all internal wall and ceiling finishes were also complete.

Wherever possible materials have been sourced locally to reduce the embodied energy required. The good health connotations of using timber made the selection of this approach for Kingsdale School an easy choice. The superstructure is sourced from mainland Europe, with the raw materials coming entirely from responsibly managed forestry. The material supplier, KLH, operates a ‘fell one, plant two’ tree husbandry policy.

Kingsdale School sports hall and music school is the first example of a cross-laminated solid timber prefabricated building for schools in the UK. It can be seen as a demonstration project for the future delivery of fast and ecologically sound education buildings.

Completion Date:


Year Published:

July 2008

Building Type:

School sports building and music school


Southwark, London




London Borough of Southwark Kingsdale School



Structural Engineer:

Michael Hadi Associates

Main Contractor:

Galliford Try Constructon

Superstructure Supplier:


Timber Element(s):

Prefabricated cross-laminated solid timber

Timber Specie(s):

European softwood from responsibly managed forests

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