Wilkinson Primary School

Wolverhampton City Council

Project Outline

Architype’s successful history of delivering schools for Wolverhampton City Council led to a repeat commission to replace an existing school that had fallen victim to an arson attack in 2010.

Following the success of the first Passivhaus schools in the UK, (Oak Meadow & Bushbury Hill Primary), the client insisted upon the standard being applied to Wilkinson Primary School.

The new design takes the school from 1.5 form-entry to 2 form-entry, accommodating 430 pupils. The school also requires space for a 30-place nursery and flexible space available out of hours as part of the community outreach developed in the brief.

On Site / Oct. '12
Completion / Feb. '14
Gross Internal / External Floor Area
2,610 sqm
Construction Type
Timber Frame
Total / £5,050,000

Winner of the Passivhaus Trust Awards 2015

Design Intent

Some of the key design aspirations included:

  • Expressing the character and atmosphere of the school in line with the feedback from consultation and the schools future plans.
  • Creating a dynamic range of stimulating spaces for teaching and learning that enable staff to teach according to modern pedagogies, providing flexibility for change and sustainability in the short and long term.
  • Achieving effective but unobtrusive security for pupils and staff that would help the users to feel safe in their new school and look forward to a new chapter of the schools history.
  • Ensuring that ancillary support and circulation spaces are optimised to work simply and effectively.
  • Creating a delightful, airy and uplifting building made from natural, sustainable materials, that wherever possible are low-carbon, recycled and free from toxins, for an ecologically conscientious building that contributes to user well-being.
  • Maximising natural daylight and ventilation, to create a healthy internal environment that delivers superior levels of comfort.
  • Designing a building that will be a legacy to the community, with communal facilities that will enable ownership and local pride.
  • Achieving a high level of quality to be reflected throughout the design and finish of the building.


The building has been rationalised with Key Stage 1 and nursery on the ground floor and Key Stage 2 on the first floor, with shared hall facilities and external soft play areas. The inclusive design focuses on a central ‘hub’ space, allowing for flexibility and accommodating a range of learning techniques; focused learning, quiet break out and messy play.

The south facing canopies have been strategically angled at 15° to reflect winter sunlight onto the internal ceiling and into the heart of the building through the high-level clerestory windows.

Located in the Black Country, the site is a former iron works from the industrial revolution. An old forge was identified on site, restricting the location of the foundations; to avoid extensive remediation, the new build footprint was placed in the same location as the previous. The client and local community expressed interest in the sites history and as a result, the polished grey tiles and rusted steel finishes to the exterior are a contemporary response to the rich industrial heritage, starkly contrasting the all-natural interior.

Enjoying Lessons Learned

A number of special innovations have been explored on Wilkinson Primary School, emerging from lessons learned in our 1st generation Passivhaus Schools. These include;

The school is flooded with natural daylight set over two floors with full height internal views that give a real sense of scale and progression for the children as they move through the school with older children on the upper floor.

Tina Gibbon, Headteacher

With the hindsight and experience of delivering previous Passivhaus schools, we found that relying heavily on the Building Management System (BMS) was actually less effective than allowing the occupants to regulate the internal conditions on their own. At Wilkinson, we made all of the opening windows within classrooms manually operated, with only the clerestory windows controlled by actuators.

The foundation detail is a repeat of the earlier Passivhaus schools, with a continuous insulation layer around the building, starting underneath the slab and vertically up the walls. The timber frame design allows for the structural element to sit on the slab thus transferring the loads, with the thermal ‘duvet-layer’ aligned with the insulation formed around the slab. The internal Air-tightness layer is also continuous, using 18mm OSB3 boards taped at the joints with air-tightness tape.

This detail has been revised since the first Passivhaus schools and is now more simple to construct. The previous schools were designed so that the first floor was supported by installing directly onto the ground floor walls, thus making the air-tightness line convoluted and exposed to potential damage during construction. On Wilkinson School, we worked closely with the timber frame sub-contractors at an early stage and designed this detailed so that the air-tightness line was a continuous line of OSB, resulting in the frame becoming a type of ‘Balloon frame system.’

The windows and curtain walling are Guttmann triple glazed units, however we worked extremely closely with the cladding sub-contractor to find a economical and aesthetically pleasing window surround detail. This detail allowed the window-surround to be glazed in, forming a designed edge to each of the two cladding materials. The windows surrounds also incorporated their own drainage system, which prevented the potential for staining from the Corten cladding material, which is an issue over the first few years of occupation.

Through monitoring of the first Passivhaus schools (Oak Meadow and Bushbury Hill), it was found that the industry wide standard non-insulated GRP sprinkler pump houses were consuming approximately half of the energy of the entire schools to keep them heated at the required regulation temperature. This monitoring allowed us the opportunity to learn and revise the way the pump house was designed for Wilkinson School. Instead of using standard off-the-shelf GRP pump housing, we designed a very simple well insulated box to house the pump. This was based on Passivhaus principles in so much as thermal bridging was eliminated by the use of a continuous insulation layer and air-tightness was included within the design. This has been highly successful and consequently, this is now being applied to our previous Passivhaus Schools.

Consultation Process

This new school project was born out of the unfortunate circumstances of an arson attack, leaving the school, pupils and surrounding community bereft. The local community really pulled together in helping the school get back on their feet in temporary accommodation, and it was important to the client that they were involved in the new design and that provisions were made for the community. Architype’s aim was to offer the pupils and staff a safe and comfortable school; part of that security was enforced by the involvement of the local community in the design process, engendering a sense of pride and ownership in the building, providing out of school hours access for sports and other extra curricular activities.

Measured Energy Performance

Architype have been monitoring the thermal comfort of Wilkinson Primary School during its first year of occupancy, as well as collecting the same data from the first generation Passivhaus schools, (Oak Meadow and Bushbury Hill) and pre-passivhaus schools, (St. Luke’s and The Willows), and a standard school building built to UK Building Regulations in the 1970’s to compare.

The results have been outstanding, showing clear improvements in each succeeding school; with all showing huge benefits upon the standard Building Regulations school. Wilkinson Primary in-particular has best overall results, having employed the lessons learned in design, construction and Soft Landings from the predecessors.

Graph showing the total thermal energy consumed for space heating and hot water in Pre-Passivahus, 1st generation Passivhaus and 2nd generation (Wilkinson Primary) Passivhaus schools.

Graph showing the winter temperature in a similarly located classroom in each school. The red line shown 21°C is the lower limit for learning, and as you can see from the graph, Wilkinson Primary begins each school day at this level, rising to a comfortable and consistent 23°, compared to the conventional Building Regulations school which never reaches the lower limit.

Graph showing the summer temperature during the same week in all studied schools in June. Wilkinson is the most controlled classroom of all of the studies, rising no more than 1.5° during occupied hours. Natural cooling and ventilation help to prevent large fluctuations and keep the temperature consistent. Classrooms stay cool and fresh in the afternoons, helping concentration of pupils and preventing fatigue.

Graph indicates the CO2 levels in the test classroom during the same week in winter. The winter is the most difficult time to control CO2 levels because people do not want to open windows in the cold weather, so the air becomes stagnant very quickly. The recommended healthy amount of CO2 in classrooms is 1500 particles per million. As you can see from the graph, the conventional school far exceeds this, and Wilkinson Primary remains consistently below the entire week.

Graph indicates the CO2 levels in the test classrooms during the same week in summer. As you can see from the graph, all classrooms do much better in controlling the CO2 content as they can open the windows. Again, Wilkinson has the best results with least fluctuation thanks to the night time cooling strategy which lets classrooms be ventilated securely throughout the night.

Project Partners

M & E Engineers
E3 Consulting Engineers
Structure Engineers
Price & Myers
Timber Frame
Quantity Surveyor
Smith Thomas Consulting
Coe Design
Thomas Vale Construction
ION Acoustics
Passivhaus Consultant
Elemental Solutions


  • Winner of CIBSE Building Performance Awards, Project of the Year – Public Use 2016
  • Winner of the Passivhaus Trust Awards 2015
  • Green Apple Award Winner for Best Practice 2014
  • LABC Built & Quality Award 2014
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