Marlborough Primary School

An existing inefficient design and limited opportunities for expansion led the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea to conclude that their original Victorian School was no longer capable of supporting their needs. Their redevelopment brief was extremely challenging - in addition to calling for a larger two-form-entry school requiring over 2,500m² of playgrounds, the brief also called for a new commercial building (offices / retail) and a pedestrian link to be provided on the existing site. The task was therefore how to achieve this significant increase in density across the confined urban site whilst creating a fitting replacement for the original Victorian School, and achieving a vibrant external environment to support the school’s educational and social needs. This submission covers the school site only and does not cover the commercial phase of the project.

As the project Landscape Architects, we were involved from the outset of the design, leading interactive workshops with the client, the school and the school children to help us to understand the school’s learning ethos and to define what their brief was for their new learning environment. We worked closely with all stakeholders and the design team to explore a number of initial design options to test the spaces and help the school to understand how their new environment would feel and the different ways in which the spaces could be used. We were responsible for the landscape concept design, preparation of all planning material associated with the external spaces, compiling the detailed design / tender information and overseeing the project being installed on site, plus subsequent maintenance inspections.

As a state school in a dense urban environment, where many pupils do not have access to garden spaces at home, the brief recognised from the outset that provision of enriching, generous play and educational spaces was key. As landscape architects, we are used to land being at a premium, having to work hard to ensure that external spaces are able to function for as many different uses as possible - this was certainly the case at Marlborough School. Agendas for play, sport, dwell, teaching, reflection, growing, sustainability and security were all incorporated into the cascading terraces, which followed the children’s pedagogical progression through the school. The final result was recognised with a Civic Trust Award in 2019. The 16 national award winning schemes were selected from 240 entries for making 'an outstanding contribution to the quality and appearance of the built environment.'

Space was at a huge premium on this site and the design sought to ensure that the buildings and landscape were considered in a creative way in order to make the most of the space available. The cascading terraces provide south facing spaces, with each classroom having directly access onto an external learning terrace, with MUGAs on the very top roof level alongside photovoltaics and a green roof. Despite the overall school site being reduced by 1000m² to make way for commercial / office space, the new design managed to achieve over 1000m² additional external learning space compared to the previous situation. This innovative design was recognised with a RIBA National Award in 2018, with the judges commenting 'fresh and distinctive, this is a school that will encourage pupils to play, learn and achieve.'


  • Project Name

    Marlborough Primary School

  • Location

    Chelsea, London

  • Category


  • Landscape Architect

    Macgregor Smith Limited

  • Client

    Marlborough Primary School, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

  • Brief

    The former Marlborough School site was physically very constrained and provided a challenge for the provision of good external learning and play space. The spaces were predominantly hard surfaced with a north facing aspect, creating shady spaces with little green relief. The brief recognised from the outset that provision of enriching, generous play and recreation spaces is of particular importance in the dense urban environment in which many of the children’s home environments have minimal external space. The existing school’s external learning / play provision was almost entirely at ground level whereas the new scheme provides learning terraces at every level of the school, offering a rich and engaging set of spaces that are easily accessible for the whole school and directly accessible from the majority of classrooms. The new scheme also represents a significant increase compared to the existing school, with over 1000m2 additional external learning space, with the designs of the spaces tailored to meet the curriculum and social needs of the school.

  • Awards

    Finalist, Landscape Institute Awards 2019


  • Project Team

    Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) - Client Marlborough Primary School - Client The John Lewis Partnership - Client Macgregor Smith - Landscape Architects Dixon Jones - Architects Lend Lease - Project Management Arup - M&E / Transport / Access Engineers ADP Architecture - BREEAM Consultant Waterman - Structural Engineers Ground Control - Ecologists David Bonnett - Access Consultant Mace - Main Contractor Kingston Landscape Group - Soft Landscape Imperial Roofing - Roofing Systems SSP - Play Surfaces Woodscape - Furniture Waterscapes - Irrigation

  • Local planning authority or government body

    Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council

  • Year Completed


  • Project Size

    0.56 ha

  • Contract Value

    Project value: £21m (School only)

  • Macgregor Smith Limited

    Registered Practice - (21 + Employees)
  • Approximate Map Location


    Chelsea, London

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