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Annual review 2022

With sustainability at its core, the GenZero project is focused on a net-zero carbon design that is resilient to climate change

Next generation schools

We developed a standardised design for schools which embraces net-zero while creating great places for students and teachers.


GenZero Schools


BRE and Department for Education, UK


UK nationwide


Project management, quantity surveying, carbon assessment, fire services, BREEAM assessment


What the users said

Our approach to GenZero was informed by our analysis of post-occupancy evaluations from 54 recently completed or refurbished schools. We surveyed the schools based on site visits and questionnaires with local staff, who provided feedback on the buildings’ quality, functionality and effectiveness. These findings were then presented to the DfE. That data informed the design of the many different spaces required to create the new exemplar school: classrooms, laboratories and workshops, corridors and stairways, lavatories and utility rooms, offices, staff facilities and medical rooms, theatres, sports halls and changing facilities, kitchens and canteens – and outdoor spaces too.

We looked at the needs of different schools – from primary up to sixth form, and from small, single-form entry up to large multi-form. We also looked at schools for those with special educational needs (SEN).


A modular approach

We developed a platform solution that would enable every school to be built using a kit of standardised components, with the requirements of each school met by combining those components differently. Platforms are common in other industries but rare in construction: automotive manufacturers use many of the same components to build a variety of vehicles. That approach has been adopted here. While the DfE defines the spaces a school requires, our platform – a standardised kit of parts – gives flexibility to create bespoke solutions.

The platform solution we developed means each school is built from a kit of components, using standardised, replicable layouts

It’s like creating a jigsaw; we needed to know what the final picture would look like in order to create the pieces and put them back together.”

Andrew Williamson, lead project manager for GenZero, Mott MacDonald

“We needed a standardised, replicable layout that could be constructed from the same pieces, used in different ways, to meet the diverse needs and site constraints of many different schools,” says our lead project manager for the programme Andrew Williamson. “It’s like creating a jigsaw; we needed to know what the final picture would look like in order to create the pieces and put them back together.”

The GenZero platform has been designed digitally. All of the modules and their component parts are virtual ‘objects’ that can be selected and placed within a school design. The design ultimately generates the schedule of modules and components for manufacture and delivery to site.

Components are designed to achieve outstanding noise and thermal insulation; using P-DfMA will deliver very high build quality. Wood was selected as the primary construction material, meeting structural and aesthetic requirements, all building regulations on fire safety, as well as supporting climate goals through substitution of carbon intensive materials such as concrete, steel and bricks and acting as a carbon store.


Design for comfort and wellbeing

GenZero schools had to be resilient to the physical impacts of climate change, anticipating 2°C to 4°C warming above the pre-industrial global average temperature. Cooling is achieved using passive cross ventilation. Outside air will be drawn into classrooms and up through the building by convection, known as the stack effect, exiting via ventilation shafts in the roof. Wherever possible, plants and trees will be incorporated into landscaping, which will help cool the supply air. Supplementary air movement will be provided by ceiling fans.

It is now well-established that individuals’ wellbeing and health benefit from contact with the outdoors. Learning outcomes do too. So GenZero schools have large windows, letting in light and offering generous views. And where space allows, they incorporate natural landscaping, with trees providing shade and cooling during summer. Both urban and rural plans include covered external areas for outdoor learning.

GenZero schools, which are designed to be resilient to the physical impacts of climate change, use passive cross ventilation for cooling