Rhyl Primary School, built by Bailey in 1898 and listed in 1999, is a large, turreted and pedimented, standard ‘triple-decker’ building in Kentish Town (Saint, 1991, see Bibliography). The main school entrance is off-axis on the north, classroom – dominated, street-facing facade. In contrast, the more broken, hall-dominated southern elevation overlooks a generous, warm, colourful, leafy playground filled with a set of new play equipment.
Arranged around the major route from front to back, the entrance area has been assembled by knocking holes in the thick brickwork separating corridor from classroom, leaving the resulting space extensive but contorted. Using an abundance of furniture, locations have been defined within the entrance area for meeting, waiting, creche and adult literacy classes. These activities are provided with a coffee machine and surrounded by corners, niches and walls displaying items such as: the school uniform, a fish tank, the work of the Art Club, the Declaration of Human Rights, an RSPCA board, an exhibition of Chinese artefacts and a Hindu shrine.
The children’s view of the school Using drawings and collage, pupils were asked to represent spaces both inside and outside the school building and then to illustrate their preferred changes. Later they were given enlarged photocopies of photographs of spaces in the school and asked to draw over them changes they would like to see.
The pupils saw the northern approach frontage as grim, dirty and out of date. They indicated that parts might be painted in bright colours. Soft white pods were shown fixed to the facade to be entered through classroom windows. Ponderous horizontality and heavy enclosure characterized external brickwork whilst window areas were under-represented.
A sense of the building as a dense high container was contrasted with the open, colourful, natural
and playful spaces outside. Children had a formal sense of their school building as a rectangular block with which they had a physical relationship in terms of shape and scale. Classrooms were shown as cluttered, busy, homely and inward looking, whilst outside, football, trees and play equipment predominated. Attempts to improve horizontal circulation included proposals for a rocket-powered lift carrying at least 30 pupils and a helter-skelter or roller coaster attached to the southern facade. Powered three-wheeler beach – buggies, water slides and Ferris wheels are located in the playground; sweet shops, ice cream kiosks and ‘MacDonald’s’ hamburger stalls service these activities.
Surprisingly, the need for pupils to withdraw and set themselves apart from the rest of the school was expressed in a variety of drawings. One pupil even went so far as to show herself reclining in an oasis surrounded by palm trees. One sketch shows the entrance to a ‘Year 6 Club’ at the top of a set of tiny stairs, whilst another displays a notice advising when pupils can attend. Perched atop a stepladder on the ground floor is an individual platform provided with a large pair of bright red spectacles for the retreatant to look down on her peers. In another version the class is cocooned in a red
translucent bag with the artist climbing a ladder to a different world suspended from the ceiling. Quiet rooms and music practice rooms are raised above their classmates and, in contrast to depictions of the busy, colourful and textured classrooms, are sparsely furnished, coolly decorated and clearly articulated spaces.