Boys returning this week to a north London school will find it has thrown off its fusty image and smartened up with a glamorous extension
Architect Jestico + Whiles has packed more style and elegance into a tiny school extension in north London than is exhibited by entire campuses developed by PFI consortiums.

Queen Elizabeth's grammar school for boys in Barnet dates back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

It is housed in one of those stiff, formal brick slabs that became the standard for school design in the 1920s. In the 1950s, an annexe was added, built using the dreary industrialised system of asbestos-cement panels favoured at the time.

The new extension slots into a narrow gap between the two unprepossessing blocks, and its combination of untreated oak boarding, galvanized tubular columns and large expanses of clear glazing brings with it a touch of 21st-century glamour.

"The school was bursting at the seams, and we were asked to draw up a masterplan for expanding and refurbishing it," says project architect Richard Rose. "For the first phase, we built an extension to the art studio on the upper floor of the 1950s building."

A large skylight in the new extension enables borrowed light to filter into the existing art studio alongside it. Directly below, a gallery is set behind fully glazed walls where pupils can show off their handiwork in art and technology.

The extension's elegance derives from its clearly articulated walls, beams, columns and windows, all made from durable, self-finished materials. The windows are shaded from excessive heat gain by wide roof-overhangs.

However, the cantilevered roof beams are not galvanized throughout, as the design suggests: the external projections are in fact separate brackets. The lesson? Real art demands a certain amount of artifice.