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Epic Buildings: St John Bosco Arts College

Nominated for the Construction News Awards Project of the Year (£10m-£50m), St John Bosco Arts College is a bright, bold building, designed to foster creativity at an all girls Catholic comprehensive school in Liverpool. Delivered by VINCI Construction UK, the building nearly failed to get off the ground at all after the Building Schools for the Future plan was suddenly scrapped in 2010.

The project succeeded against the odds, Liverpool City Council agreed to invest in the new building as part of a larger £169m scheme to rebuild and improve numerous schools across the city. Their investment has certainly paid off, with widespread acclaim for the building, its construction team and its architects BDP, assuring the council of the value of their investment.

Clad in Kingspan panels which echo the colours of school’s emblem, the building is not much to look at. Functional yet unremarkable, the exterior faces onto a busy road and skirts a housing estate, with only the colourful panels and lettering marking it out from neighbouring supermarkets and warehouses. Yet, stepping inside this remarkable building reveals exactly what all the fuss is about…

Set over three floors and centring around a large central space called The Hill, the St John Bosco Arts College is a marvel of open plan ingenuity and colourful, creative uses of space. It’s The Hill that truly epitomises what this building stands for. Overlooked by balconies on all three levels of the building (which lead to more traditional teaching spaces), The Hill is comprised of a bright green set of “bleachers” offering views onto a central area which functions as a stage, a social space and a vibrant hub for the whole school.

Tucked neatly in and around The Hill, the architects have cleverly incorporated a refectory, a library, areas for special needs support, the head’s office and essential administrative rooms.

This project is a marvel of economy and creativity. With a reduced budget (the school lost out on an additional £2m after Building Schools for the Future fell through) the materials used in this construction are humble. The walls are plasterboard, the carpets are functional to the point of hideousness and the furniture is plastic almost without exception. Yet architects BDP have done such a tremendous job of cramming palpable enthusiasm into a building which looks like very little from the outside, that they’ve created a whole new school community within its walls.

Surrounded by cheap materials and overhung by shamelessly exposed open-span trusses which suspend the building’s pitched roof, the school’s pupils and teachers have discovered a whole new way of interacting thanks to a very intelligent, sensitive use of space. The effect is so impressive, it’s possible to overlook the structure’s many flaws. It’s just plain great.

What do you make of this new school building? Does the structure have longevity or is its success a flash in the pan thanks to its hampered budget? Share your views below.