The Little Green Schoolhouse

PROJECT HAMPTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL RENOVATION, HAMPTON, NEW BRUNSWICK

ARCHITECT MURDOCK & BOYD ARCHITECTS

TEXT JOHN LEROUX

PHOTOS MARK HEMMINGS PHOTOGRAPHY AND STEPHEN KOPP

For most New Brunswick schools built between the 1950s and 1970s, a durable but somewhat unexciting mix of dark brick or bland panelized sheets was about as stimulating a surface treatment as one could get. Materials were usually selected for their durability, and other factors were thrown to the wind. Any potential for colour or exterior diversity was lost in a world of tedious consistency and bureaucratic caution. It was a brown world that schoolkids lived in, at least on the outside…inside, the classrooms and hallways were a different story with vibrant colour welcomed and ever-present. Walls were covered with rainbows of construction paper creations, flags, maps, and everything else that makes one feel cheerful and six years old again when entering an elementary school. So how should contemporary architects revisit the issue of colour in schools to best benefit children in today’s learning environment?

A sense of colourful animation and its appropriateness to the education of youth was taken to heart when Murdock & Boyd Architects were approached by the provincial government to complete a recladding project for Hampton Elementary School near Saint John. What could easily have been a mundane commission has instead transformed the building’s original 1960s dark brown board-and-batten wood siding into an exciting and animated place of learning for the 21st century.

The initial design vision was strong from the beginning, as seen in Murdock & Boyd’s handout presentation to the school board: it begins with the heading, “People tend to forget that play is serious.” The architects followed with the assertion that “The decision of placing importance of design in schools can have a dramatically positive impact on students, teachers and the surrounding neighbourhood. Effects can include increased community participation, positive influence on school pride, less absenteeism, and awareness of school and community needs.”

In making the changes to Hampton Elementary, Murdock & Boyd established three worthy goals to guide the design process:

1. Create a positive and playful learning environment for the children and staff.

2. Help establish a unique school identity.

3. Celebrate and promote a connection to nature.

Their new siding plan explored a similar board-and-batten cladding, but with bright new colour combinations. After considering reds and oranges, the architects settled on a vertical array of wide lime green boards alternating with a procession of evenly spaced thin blue battens. The proposed scheme was inspired by the natural shades of green and blue from the sur- rounding trees and rivers which envelop the school and enliven the region.

The relief and depth between the boards and battens creates the perception that the school miraculously “changes” colour depending on the viewing angle. When seen straight on, the building appears mainly green, but when viewed at a sharp angle it appears almost solid blue, with a number of green/blue combinations in between. Along with the new siding, the windows and fascia have been reframed in white Azek panels that provide rhythmic breaks to the long coloured elevations.

The creative team share a common passion for energetic design that pushes the boundaries of usual New Brunswick expectations. Architect Greg Murdock oversaw the project, while design and colour selection was carried out by intern architects Stephen Kopp and Monica Adair, both recent graduates of the University of Toronto architecture program. Kopp and Adair moved back to Adair’s hometown of Saint John from New York in 2006 to establish themselves in the architectural community. From their experiences studying abroad in Holland, they were heavily influenced by the material and colour sensibilities of contemporary Dutch architecture with its dazzling and almost obsessive quest for dramatically hued forms.

Beyond their roles at Murdock & Boyd Architects, Kopp and Adair have also formed a design group called the Acre Collective, which has already received acclaim in Saint John for designing an outdoor extension to a downtown wine bar. They see the collective as enriching their hands-on skills and design approach, as well as enhancing what they bring every day to Murdock & Boyd, stating that “they strive to lead in projects that creatively contribute to the way we live and to the world we live in, whether they be pragmatic or artistic. We are inspired by the collaborative process and the challenge it poses of continuously redefining the way we work and think. Murdock & Boyd’s reputable building experience has offered us the opportunity to work closely on larger-scale projects such as hockey arenas, while the Acre Collective allows us a more playful and explorative means of interacting with ‘architecture’–to make and be part of the projects.”

The design team wisely saw the Hampton project as a perfect opportunity to add value and interest to the school and students’ lives without having to seek out extra funding beyond the relatively low-budget recladding of the exterior. Although the colour choice was initially almost secondary to the project, it quickly became the primary focus.

Mary Campbell, the school’s acting principal, admitted that there was some trepidation upon the presentation of the new blue, green and white exterior, but most of the children and their parents have been won over since the project was completed in September 2007. Campbell relates that the facelift was a catalyst in helping to revitalize a new school spirit while offering an invigorating new start to what the students are now calling “the cool school.”

There is little doubt that Hampton Elementary will find it very easy being green. In an educational world full of countless challenges and pressures, at the very least we can make our children’s schools bright and welcoming refuges that reflect the vitality of the world around them. With this renovation, Hampton Elementary passes the test with flying colours.CA

John Leroux, AANB, MRAIC is an architect and journalist based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

CLIENT DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, PROVINCE OF NEW BRUNSWICK

ARCHITECT TEAM GREG MURDOCK, STEPHEN KOPP, MONICA ADAIR, KIRK RUSSELL

STRUCTURAL R. A. LAWRENCE ENGINEERING

CONTRACTOR BRUCE E. LAWSON CONTRACTOR LTD.

AREA 41,250 FT2 (EXISTING)

BUDGET $210,000

COMPLETION SEPTEMBER 2007

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