Vandersanden bricks help create educational superblock

Education Thu, Nov 16, 2023 4:26 PM

Setting an aesthetic benchmark at the heart of the regeneration of London’s Royal Docks, Oasis Academy Silvertown is a new Department for Education school created by architects Rivington Street Studio.

The landmark building serves 11-16 year olds and achieves a BREEAM ‘Excellent' rating while its striking appearance owes much to the use of Vandersanden’s Perla bricks.

At the heart of an emerging community in West Silvertown, the Oasis Academy is an all-inclusive secondary school for 600 students on a constrained .25-hectare site. Arranged as a multi-storey ‘superblock’, the building incorporates outdoor social space at different levels and a full-sized sports pitch on its roof.

The warm white Perla brickwork and large openings relate to the existing and new residential properties and the monumental listed Silo D nearby. The building’s thick external walls are folded to provide a layered façade in response to the elements. A double-height colonnade to the North Woolwich Road acts as a visitor entrance and engenders a civic quality to the building while also allowing for generous pedestrian movement and a deep threshold between the public domain and secure school environment.

The site is surrounded by a mix of red brick residential properties, derelict industrial land and vast stretches of master-planned residential and commercial properties. “We wanted the Academy to stand out from this landscape,” explains Éimear Murphy, associate director at Rivington Street Studio. “Vandersanden’s white Perla bricks give the building a monumental quality, highlighting that it’s for the community and is not an apartment block.”

Taylor Maxwell, the brick supplier, suggested Vandersanden’s Perla brick for the project. “What we really liked about Perla is that it’s not only a white brick, with no variation in the colour, but it has quite a rustic, handmade texture that gives it a warm feel rather than a shiny and engineered surface finish,” says Murphy.

There were various challenges to creating the brickwork details. The sharp angles associated with the brick fins on the side elevations meant there were a lot of brick specials so these were scheduled with plans drawn through the fins at every other course at the different levels. The contractor then cut the bricks to the schedule. This was made possible because the Perla bricks are exactly the same colour all the way through.

For the canted reveals of the double-height colonnade to the main elevation, brick slip panels were used. Rivington Street Studio worked with the brick subcontractor to develop a bespoke detail and different mock-ups were trialled. The brick slips are seamless in appearance, matching with the full bricks used elsewhere.

The canted reveals to the windows on the south elevation were envisioned through extensive 3D modelling and the Perla bricks again proved highly versatile during construction.

To achieve a homogenous feel to the building, the mortar was matched to the brick. From a distance, the structure resembles a white cube but, as you get closer, the surface detail of the mortar joints and brick texture starts appearing. At different times of the day, the building’s appearance changes as patterns of light and shade move across the texture of the bricks.

"The Vandersanden bricks are incredibly high quality and the through colour simplified the construction process because the bricks could simply be cut to suit the building’s geometry, enthuses Murphy. “Another important factor was the excellent consistency of the batches as this was essential to achieving the building’s monolithic, one-colour look.”

In association with Vandersanden Brick

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