Introducing the Alvarium
The initial planning meeting to launch our ambitious £12m new build venture at Northwood College for Girls, took place back in 2015. What ensued was a seven year project, packed full with research trips; student, parent and staff focus groups; consultations; internal planning meetings; material samples and swatches; zoom and face to face meetings with designers, architects, builders, suppliers and site managers; draft designs, refined draft designs, more draft designs; material testing; staff and student site visits, and the list goes on…
A hard-hat and high-vis jacket became a staple feature of Mr Brown’s attire and a feeling of excitement and anticipation gripped our entire school, but no one could have truly imagined the final outcome. From a flat, dark grey car park, a breathtakingly elegant, sophisticated, aspirational, and invigorating Alvarium building was born.
There have been so many highlights throughout this journey, from watching our little Bluebelles’ explore what was then a building site, to the joyful reactions from all girls as they entered the completed build for the first time (and along the way, we particularly loved overhearing our little ones proudly tell their parents about the magical building that was being made behind the scaffolding boards!). From receiving the news that our wonderful NCPTA had decided to donate a generous £12K to facilitate our Maker Space with cutting edge 3D printers and laser cutters, to showcasing our phenomenal new labs at last week’s Open Day; this mammoth undertaking has generated so much joy, as well as, many mountains to climb along the way.
But, no matter what challenges we faced, from supply chain issues to a global pandemic, one constant throughout the entire process has been the steely ambition, enthusiasm, attention to detail, tireless effort and pure dedication demonstrated by our DFO, Mr Brown, as well as, our previous Heads, Ms Jackie Pain and Mrs Zara Hubble, our Chair of Governors, Mr Geoff Hudson, our colleagues at GDST Head Office, and so many more dedicated individuals to whom we owe so much.
On Thursday 29 September, Mrs Brown and her team had the exciting opportunity to officially launch our stunning new building, alongside her VIP guest, the Imperial College Research Fellow and award winning physicist, Dr Jess Wade. Dr Wade is a true inspiration to us all at Northwood; a highly respected equality campaigner, boundary pusher and pioneer, Dr Wade is a Scientist on a mission. Echoing our own school’s ambition, Dr Wade, is dedicated to attracting more females into the world of science and inspiring them to embark on STEAM career paths. A GDST alumna, she is passionate that everyone who has achieved something impressive within the field of science should receive the prominence and recognition that they deserve. With this in mind, 2017 saw Dr Wade write her first entry on Wikipedia and since then she has uploaded over 1,700 biographies, all of which highlight women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ scientists and engineers. We were fortunate enough to hear her share some stories of these science trailblazers at our special Alvarium launch evening.
Mr Brown commented: “I am so grateful to Dr Wade, she is the most fitting scientist to open our Alvarium, as she shares our determination to provide girls with the ultimate STEAM learning and discovery environment. From the very beginning of the project, I envisaged a beautiful space that would inspire and engage young minds and imaginations every day. I wanted a light, bright, contemporary building that our girls would be proud to see as their own haven, and where their love and curiosity of science will be constantly ignited and nourished to grow and flourish.”
The Alvarium is home to ten state-of-the-art science laboratories, including a dedicated Junior School laboratory. The principal material used in the building is traditional red brick to ensure that the building is in keeping with the local landscape and makes a positive contribution to Maxwell Road. A concrete frame construction, the building’s concrete columns support the deep overhang of the upper floors and purposely remain exposed to provide the building with a natural, organic aesthetic advantage. The triple height atrium has wide timber plank flooring and fully glazed curtain walling to the principal stair, which is decorated gracefully with scientific symbol graphics.
Flexible walls open up the meeting area to a beautifully furnished, light and bright, atrium area. Now home to our main School Reception, the Alvarium’s combined use of glass and exposed concrete, provide a natural light and the feeling of space set within an ultra modern setting.
The Maker Space classroom with showcase seating has a fluorescent banner light that reads: ‘Think about things ‘yltnereffiD’ (meaning Differently) and this is a motto that we know our girls already adopt.
Whether they are studying biotechnology through links with AMGEN and local universities in Biology, designing wetsuits for paratriathlon in Y7 STEM lessons, working with precision to successfully complete organic syntheses in our new fume cupboards in Chemistry, analysing force date using the new state of the art data loggers in Physics, or learning about technology and design in the Maker Space where they construct and race electronic lego cars – it is clear that the imagination of our future scientists, doctors, engineers, technicians and all round innovators, are being fuelled every day in this phenomenal new science hub.
Mrs Brown said: “Whether the individual student is 6 or 18, I know that she has the potential to be taken on a magical journey of discovery and learning when she is in a science lab; and I know that we have given our all to ensure that we provide the very best setting to enhance this experience.”
Latin for the word ‘Beehive’, the ‘Alvarium’, was named by our Head of Science, Mr Reece, who comments: ‘Beehives are true hubs of activity. Visualise a beehive and you will probably see hexagons – hubs and hexagons are integral science structures in biology, chemistry and physics. Bees are renowned for the crucial role they play in our natural ecosystem. Our Science department, is the ultimate hive of activity, where busy bees, whether they be students or staff, all work hard together and greatly value the power of collective endeavour, whilst always appreciating the importance of being eco-aware. To me, the Alvarium seemed the most natural name in the world for our beautiful new building.”
The launch of the Alvarium provided a perfect opportunity for our Assistant Head (Learning & Innovation), Mrs Hughes, to host the NWC Academic Showcase 2022, which was entitled ‘Ignite’. Dr Wade joined Northwood students and their families to view the academic presentations taking place around the Alvarium labs throughout the evening. With subjects ranging from an exploration of virtual reality technology to an experiment on epigenetics; the importance of STEM in girls’ education to the use of Design Thinking to help increase confidence in advocating for Social Justice; and a rumination of the future of bioprinted organs to a Jane Eyre inspired street performance, the showcase provided our girls and teachers with the opportunity to share their love of learning.
On Saturday 12 November, the Alvarium will host ‘Forge & Shine Science Saturday’, in association with the Royal Institute. A fun packed morning for all Nursery to Year 6 parents and pupils will feature Science Shows and Coding lessons.
Mrs Brown concluded: “I have so many people to thank for our beautiful Alvarium building. May I wholeheartedly thank Mr Brown for his tireless dedication to this mammoth project; each and every member of our brilliant Estates Team in school; our previous Heads, Jackie and Zara; our entire governing committee and particularly our Chair of Governors, Mr Geoff Hudson. I am so grateful to the Estates Team and the Estates Trustees at the GDST (without whom our dream would not have become a reality); to all of our girls for always being full of energy, enthusiasm and ideas and to every member of our staff body for their ongoing commitment to making sure that the girls are always at the heart of what we do and why our school is so very special.”