On the first day of our London conference we boarded a bus and headed into London traffic.  It wasn’t rush hour, but in London it’s hard to tell.  It seems to be slow going no matter what the time of day. In general, it took us twice as long to get anywhere than we had planned.  One thing that made the long trip worthwhile was that we passed just west of the 2012 Olympic site, and could see several of the new venues. 

We were headed to our very first school visit – the City Academy – a Free School.   In England, Free Schools are the equivalent of our Charter Schools, but in the UK they are very a recent development.  The building was built new specifically for this program and is located in the Hackney Borough of London. 

The building is three stories high and very open inside, with atrium spaces in both wings.  The atriums were topped with a lightweight double-film plastic skylight.  The two layers of the skylight are kept separated and rigid by a continuously running pump that inflates the space between the layers.  I wonder if we could do that in Colorado, but I would worry about our snow load. 

One thing that strikes any American visiting a school in London is the very tight security.  Every school site has a substantial perimeter fence and the main gate through that fence is tightly controlled.  Although this seems intimidating, it has one major advantage.  By dealing with security at the site edge, London schools can ignore security problems inside the building.  So, all the lockdown procedures and secure classroom issues we as American  school designers have to deal with go away.  The result is that English schools enjoy an astonishing level of visual openness from circulation spaces into classrooms, and the City Academy was no exception.