BDP has transformed a redundant school sports hall into suite of high-performance and environmentally responsible classrooms, dining, and social spaces for Wardle Academy in Rochdale.


Nick Caville

BDP’s WaterSHED project at Wardle Academy in Rochdale has transformed an outdated sports hall into a testbed for new forms of teaching and learning. Employing innovative offsite construction techniques and standard material sizes, the project comprises two flexible classrooms, a design technology studio, and a cafe that can also be used for informal learning and events. The central space is animated by the ‘learning steps’ – a processional staircase with integrated seating that leads to a refurbished mezzanine level. This provides further space for dining, as well as audience seating for presentations and performances.


“WaterSHED is symbolic of the kind of creative design concepts and construction processes that we have to adopt to reduce our impact on the environment,” explains BDP Architect Associate Jonny Day. “The space was very much a traditional ‘closed-off’, dark, drab sports hall before the retrofit. We took a low-carbon approach to the expansion of the hall, adding rooflights and natural ventilation to create a bright and comfortable environment. The new windows in the north and south facades allow more natural light in and provide views out to the school grounds.”

Ground and first-floor plans; sections

The project employs a simple material palette comprising joinery-grade birch plywood, glulam timber trusses, steel sinusoidal cladding, and gypsum partition boards. Sheep’s wool insulation has been installed into the wall build-up to separate spaces acoustically and manage heat loss. In addition, each classroom has a lining of wood wool absorption board fixed between the exposed trusses to achieve a high level of acoustic attenuation.

The use of locally sourced sheep’s wool insulation, combined with low-energy lighting and heating and ventilation systems, has improved thermal comfort, lowered energy usage and reduced operating costs for the school. Central to the scheme is a desire to reduce all waste products and to measure the health and wellbeing effects of using nature-based materials and systems throughout the building. Therefore, the design team reused, recycled or renewed materials, tracked all waste products, and continues to monitor the air quality.

A suite of environmental sensors remotely monitors CO2 levels and temperatures within the main education spaces. The sensors connect to the 5G mobile network, facilitating remote monitoring of all spaces. Alongside a lifecycle assessment, the monitoring programme will establish usage patterns and define the quality of the environment within the sheds and the central spaces for the entire lifespan of the project.

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