Sky Garden opens in London Academy

A brightly painted, timber clad ‘Sky Garden’ has been completed in time for the new school year, providing much needed outdoor space for students at an East London School. The project, a collaboration between Holt Architecture & George King Architects, is located at the London Enterprise Academy, a school for 11-16 year olds in Tower Hamlets, London’s most densely populated borough.

The school, a converted office building in Whitechapel, originally had no outdoor play space, a situation that became increasingly problematic during the Covid pandemic and so the designers were challenged to find a way to provide outdoor recreation on this confined site. As a result a pair of bright steel and timber terraces with planted borders have sprung to life above an existing car park and basement, providing an escape from stuffy classrooms.

Conceived as a series of interlinked timber clad tree houses, the bright yellow hyperboloid columns appear as tree trunks with multiple branches supporting the lightweight sky blue canopy above. The zig-zagging boundaries break down the mass and create a series of lookouts and semi-private balconies for students to unwind and enjoy lunchtime bites. A living plant border adorned with enlarged patterns reminiscent of botanical cellular structures hugs the edges, inviting biodiversity and offering a natural learning hub for students to grow their own plants.

The structure of the platforms is tightly knitted into the existing building, with columns carefully positioned to respond to the structural grid of the basement whilst allowing continued access to the car park and electricity substation directly beneath during construction and use. Access to the platforms comes directly from the existing school by modifying the landing of an existing fire escape stair to create a secure entrance. The hyperboloid column structure, designed in collaboration with Price and Myers Engineers, creates an extremely rigid geometry that is braced in multiple directions resulting in an efficient, lightweight structure with large spans from a minimal amount of material.