WHAT architecture - London


Childrens centre and school administration block
Scale550 sqm
LocationHillingdon, Greater London UB8 3TH, UK
ClientLondon Borough of Hillingdon pupils, parents and staff at CSLCoEPS+CC
Budget€ 1000000
Design Year2010

Can you imagine a future where children participate meaningfully in the formation of their own learning environments? Where kids designed and built their own schools!? At Cowley St Laurence Primary School in north-west London, WHAT_architecture wanted the users of the building - children, parents, staff - to be involved in the design and construction of a new school building. To imagine a world where the pupil is the client so as to inspire creativity and improve the quality of school life through good design.


LEGO® was used as a tool because everyone knows how to use it and thus provides a design democracy. Lego allows for quick, playful and educational experimentation: we are all architects! By abandoning 2D drawing for 3D modeling, the new building’s overall design readily sprang into shape: a building that was both a bridge and a gateway. As a bridge, the proposal connects the former independent Cowley Infant and St Laurence Junior schools. As a gateway, the building replaces the layers of security fencing that formed the previous entry. Everyday each of the 371 children will now pass through this new portal to the imagination!


The ambition of the project had to motivate children. It was decided to attempt something never previously achieved anywhere in the world - to build a permanent building using one million LEGO® bricks - and in doing so the project would inspire children to believe that anything is possible through ideas, belief, scholarship and teamwork. The project thus embraces both the Dept for Education's policy (“Every Child Matters”) as well as the school’s own core value (“Every individual has a unique and valued contribution to make”). Every pupil participated in workshops held in the school and designed their own piece of the façade.


LEGO® has for long held a popular fascination for its creative potential, yet its merit as an architetural treatment remains unexplored. Making a building out of LEGO® is after all not easy as it is not recognised as a compliant building material: it requires anti-grafitti, flame retardant, UV protection and tamperproof fixings for example. The 250sqm LEGO® façade was built by the community: children, staff, parents and community volunteers including the nearby Brunel University participated. The logistics of the build meant overcoming Health and Safety issues as children are not ordinarily allowed on building sites! The project is not a television stunt or an adventure park sculpture. The project is a permanent building that has been nearly two years in planning and building regulations controls.


A patent for the LEGO® build process is being submitted to the Intellectual Property Office.
A Guinness World Record application has been lodged for the largest quantity of insitu interlocking plastic bricks.