School finds people-friendly solution to aircraft noise: David Nicholson-Lord reports on the 1993 Green Building of the Year Award, co-sponsored by the Independent on Sunday

A PRIMARY school designed to cope with jets roaring 500ft overhead every minute and drowning out lessons has won the 1993 Green Building of the Year Award, sponsored jointly by the Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association and the Independent on Sunday.

Grove Road school in Hounslow, west London, is under a main flight path to Heathrow airport. Not only were teachers rendered inaudible; the school is frequently sprayed with aircraft fuel.

The task facing Plincke, Leaman and Browning, the Winchester-based architects, was to cut noise without imprisoning the occupants in a sealed box. They also had to replace three old high-silled Victorian school buildings with a single unifying design.

The new school, finished in 1990, is based on the idea of an 'acoustic umbrella' and was praised by the judges for its lightness and friendliness. Wedge-shaped classrooms open like segments of a fan off a central glazed courtyard. The school is sunny and open yet intimate.

The judges, who included representatives of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers and the Building Services Research and Information Association, chose Grove Road because of its solutions to noise pollution.

The award was presented yesterday by Judith Hann, who introduces BBC Television's Tomorrow's World, to Max Fordham, the consulting building services engineer.

As well as reducing noise levels by 35 decibels, the school is highly energy-efficient; bricks and slates from the demolished Victorian buildings were re-used. Each classroom has its own garden, with plants matching the colours of the rainbow and fences of large coloured 'pencils.'

Two buildings were highly commended by the judges. The London Wildlife Trust visitors' centre in Peckham, south London, has a living roof made of grass and wildflowers, and 'breathing walls', which create a healthier indoor environment by allowing oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass through. The centre is made of timber, which consumes a quarter of the energy needed to manufacture bricks. Paints were organic, materials and finishes made from natural substances such as pine resin, beeswax and linseed oil. There are plans to recycle washing-up water on site using wind pumps and reed beds.

The offices of Peter Holden Architects, in Pembroke, Dyfed, were commended for their creation of a light, airy and healthy environment from a derelict quayside building. Stonework, beams, rafters and slates from the original building were re-used, set in a traditional lime-rich mortar to form a 'breathing skin'. Glues, stains and paints were non-toxic: linoleum was used for floors and work surfaces instead of PVC.

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