Case studies

Crouch Hill Community Park, London

Provided by Penoyre & Prasad LLP


Architect: Penoyre & Prasad LLP 
Aerial view fromwest

Crouch Hill Community Park involves the reclamation of an unkempt piece of open land in the heart of north London.

Address of project: Crouch Hill, London, N8

Construction Cost: £14 million

Year of Completion: 2012

Client: London Borough of Islington 

Quantity Surveyor: Davis Langdon

Structural Engineer: AKT

Services Engineer: Gifford

Main Contractor: Wilmott Dixon 







The design problem



The site is an island of woodland in north London 

This project was initiated by Islington Council's Children services and arose out of a need to rehouse the existing Ashmount School, itself of significant architectural heritage, designed by HT Cadbury Brown in 1954. The only available land was on a neglected piece of Metropolitan Open Land in Crouch Hill.

The new build primary school became the catalyst for a wider ranging, more ambitious project. The vision for Crouch Hill Community Park is to create a high quality learning and recreation environment that will be at the core of an extended offer of services to local communities including childcare and services for children and young people, recreational facilities and space for community use. And the development is to be carbon-zero in-use with BREEAM Outstanding rating for the school.

The project consists of a new primary school (Ashmount School) combined with a private nursery (Bowlers), the refurbishment of an existing electrical substation to create enhanced facilities for an existing youth club and to incorporate a new ecology centre into the building, the upgrading of an existing Multi-Use Games Area, and to improve accessibility, safety and amenity to the space thus creating an ecologically rich community park. This is all tied together by a district heating system, generated by a gas CHP and biomass boiler.

The project is a complex web of interests and requirements. The sensitive nature of the site – MOL, site of special ecological significance, high environmental aspirations has entailed negotiations with multiple authorities, while multiple end-users has entailed extensive consultations and the creation of new forms of management for the Park.

The site


The site is an intriguing mix of an inspirational woodland setting with urban neglect. 

The site, located in the heart of North London, is designated Metropolitan Open Land while at the same time is of ecological significance. The site is divided into two parts. 

The lower part – the Parkland Walk, forms parts of a pedestrian route linking Finsbury Park to Highgate. Originally part of a secondary railway line, it has become a heavily treed wood with secondary growth and ecological diversity. Remnants of the railway heritage still exist in the remnants of station platforms, brick arches and electricity substation, now used as a council youth centre.

The upper part of the site, less well used and decidedly more unkempt, contains a derelict community building, a nursery currently in use (to be kept open during the course of construction) and a graffiti-clad multi-use games area. A single access road connects Crouch Hill to the nursery and community building through the centre of the site.

The site is therefore an intriguing mix of inspirational woodland setting, with protected wildlife habitats, ecological diversity and a rare topography for London, with urban neglect. The project seeks to improve access, safety and amenity while not losing the essential qualities of the place.

The architectural response

The brief for the project contains a variety of different programmes – primary school, nursery, youth centre and park. These disparate elements are tied together by a shared architectural response, landscaping and a carbon zero district heat and power network.

A number of fundamental principles underline the site strategy:

  • ensuring that the buildings, the landscape and their management will enhance the key objectives of its designation as MOL and a site of special ecological significance
  • reducing the overall building footprint.
  • creating a safer place that people will enjoy visiting and a useful crossing point between different parts of the community.
  • enhancing the natural setting by positioning new buildings to allow a central green heart to the site, a focal space where people gather and around which the facilities are arranged
  • engaging the local and wider community by creating a unique resource for recreation
  • achieving a balance between an increase in visitors and the protection of habitat
  • ensuring that the process of design, construction and sustainable use of the new buildings creates a ground-breaking opportunity for education and participation
  • creating an environmentally sustainable carbon-zero development.

The overall energy strategy is designed to deliver carbon zero energy to the constituent elements of the site – lighting for the park, Cape youth centre, school, adjoining blocks of flats. The design of the new school itself employs a number of passive design measures to reduce overall energy consumption and increase biodiversity. This includes:

  • in-situ concrete frame to increase thermal mass
  • use of e-stack ventilation units to increase effectiveness of natural ventilation strategy and reduce draughts in the classrooms
  • maximum use of daylight throughout the building
  • high levels of insulation
  • use of sedum roofs
  • use of grey water recycling through eco-play wc cisterns and rainwater recycling for irrigation
  • solar glazing and solar shading particular to the elevation
  • use of high level of recycled and low-embodied energy materials
  • use of low-energy lighting systems and electrical goods
  • easy-to-use building controls
  • use of soft-landings programme for three years post-completion



The project consists of a new community based primary school and nursery, the refurbishment of the Cape Youth Centre housed in an old electrical substation, a new park with enhanced sporting and recreational facilities, all in an ecologically-enhanced setting. 
© Penoyre & Prasad


Site sections showing topography and relationship between new and existing buildings. © Penoyre & Prasad


The site strategy consists of three main moves: removing the existing Bowlers Nursery in order to open up the centre of the park to the public; moving the road to the south of the side, thus making the park traffic-free; increasing accessibility and visibility across the site. © Gronmitj/Penoyre & Prasad


Energy on the site is generated in the Energy Centre in the existing Cape Building. Through a combination of gas CHP, Biomass and shipping excess energy offsite to allow carbon offsetting, the project overall achieves a Carbon Negative rating. © Penoyre & Prasad/Grontmij/Gifford


Photograph of model showing the centre of the site. © A Models, Penoyre & Prasad

The Building


The primary school is conceived as a building sitting in a woodland clearing. The younger years are located on the lower floor – ‘the cave dwellers’. As they grow older, the children rise up through the building to the top, to become ‘treedwellers’. © Penoyre & Prasad 



View of the primary school from the central park space. Bowlers nursery is buried under public space, opening onto a big play space to the west. © Assembly Studios


The design seeks to reinforce the children’s relationship with nature, maximising views through and out of the building. © Penoyre & Prasad


Section through assembly hall. The building is partially buried in the ground to account for a complex topography and to reduce overall height. Innovative technologies such as E-stack ventilation units and Eco-play water recycling enhance the passive design strategies to reduce overall energy use. © Assembly Studios/Penoyre & Prasad



The lower ground floor contains the nursery and reception classrooms and halls. Bowlers nursery is buried in the ground, with large northwest facing windows opening onto a play space.
© Penoyre & Prasad


Ground floor plan with main entrance, library, admin and staff areas. 
© Penoyre & Prasad


Upper floor plans. Classrooms are clustered in the wings around either toilets, for the younger years, or small group rooms, for the upper years. Roof areas at second floor are used for outdoor teaching and supervised play. 
© Penoyre & Prasad


The primary school has been designed to enable it to provide community facilities for after hours use. © Penoyre & Prasad


The design incorporates new elements, relating to the new-build primary school, while maintaining the character of the existing building. © Penoyre & Prasad

Design strategies

  • Zero Carbon: The project is designed to be Zero Carbon in-use. This is achieved through carbon offsetting. A district heating system is provided through a gas-fired CHP and biomass boiler housed in the Energy Centre in the Cape youth centre building. Surplus heat generated is shipped off site to the adjoining Coleman Mansions housing blocks, with the resulting saving in carbon offset by that used on site:
    • Site carbon footprint if generating energy from grid: 175T CO2/year.
    • Carbon footprint using energy from CHP and biomass boiler: 141T CO2/year.
    • Carbon offset by shipping energy to Coleman Mansions: 198T CO2/ year.
    • Net carbon footprint of site: -57T CO2/year.
  • Cement and Concrete: The new school building employs an in-situ concrete frame and precast concrete planks to provide thermal mass and large spans. Extensive calculations and discussions indicated that concrete provided a more climatically future-proof building than steel or timber would have done.
  • Cross Ventilation: All habitable spaces in the new school building are naturally ventilated. Classrooms use the e-stack ventilation system which allow for heat recovery in winter and safe night time cooling.
  • Water Conservation: Ecoplay wc cisterns are used in the school to collect greywater from showers and wash hand basins in the toilets. This is then used for flushing toilets. Rainwater is collected from the roofs and used for irrigation.
  • Combined heat and power: An Energy Centre in the existing Cape building houses a gas CHP which provides, via a district heating system, heat and power to the buildings and lighting on the site. Excess energy is exported off site to the adjoining blocks of flats. During winter, heating is topped up through the use of a biomass boiler.
  • Community: The provision of community facilities has been paramount in the project. This ranges from an improved recreational facilities in the form of the park and the Multi-Use Games Area, the incorporation of a community-based ecology centre in the existing Cape building, provision of community facilities within the primary school, and extensive consultation with the community and other stakeholders throughout the design and construction process.
  • Biodiversity: The project area is of ecological significance with dense woodland and a wide range of flora and fauna. The landscape design has been carefully considered to protect the existing ecology along the Parkland Walk, enhancing it where possible, and create a new biodiverse ecology where it has degraded. A school and ecology centre in the heart of a woodland park will help raise awareness of issues around ecology and sustainability.

Lessons learnt

The project is just starting on site. It has been a long process, involving numerous discussions with planners, stakeholders and end users. Some of the project’s challenges include:

  • building on Metropolitan Open Land within the St Paul’s viewing corridor
  • heavily wooded of site of ecological significance
  • numerous stakeholders and end users, with competing and conflicting demands
  • 50 planning conditions attached to planning approval
  • BREEAM outstanding and carbon zero requirements
  • limited access during construction

Take this further

Islington - Schools for the Future

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