Parliament Hill School Library

Over a three year programme, SWA worked simultaneously with adjacent secondary schools, Parliament Hill and William Ellis, to implement a phased, creative renewal programme to revitalise and modernise established teaching spaces.

As part of our work at Parliament Hill, we re-worked the ground floor of the Performing Arts building to provide a new library space. SWA’s works coincided with the construction of new accommodation to the rear of the building, and a new sixth form building which fronts onto Highgate Road, done by others.

The refurbishment of PHS was split into two phases, spanning several years – the library was included in the second phase. The new library provides a stimulating space which is accessible to all pupils. Reconfiguration of a series of smaller rooms provides a large Learning Resource Centre, with various breakout zones, study spaces and reading nooks to suit a variety of needs. Bespoke joinery items sit alongside new bookshelves and legacy furniture which was retained and reused.

Client: LB Camden / Parliament Hill School
Completion: 2019
Cost: £130,000 
Location: Highgate, London

Plan diagram highlighting the extent of SWA’s work at neighbouring Parliament Hill School and William Ellis School
Design Principles

The library is the centrepiece of the school’s refurbishment works. It is the heart of the redeveloped school, demonstrating the commitment of Parliament Hill School to supporting all its students. Early engagement and brief development with the Librarian informed the design development of this space, from zoning/passive observation, acoustics, and bespoke joinery details to combine practicality, intrigue and sense of scale which was appropriate for younger pupils.

Axo diagram of new library, highlighting key uses and zoning

The Library space has been designed according to the following principles, developed with the school: openness, flexibility, accessibility, stimulation, and connections with nature and growth. Openness was important to avoid ‘blind spots’ when staff numbers are lower in the library. Bookshelves and other pieces of furniture (both fixed and movable) are used to create zones within the open plan space to aid with this, as well as provide flexibility.

Reading and study spaces are provided for individuals, small groups and larger groups, designed with younger pupils and KS5 needs in mind. They are also integrated into the Non-Fiction space to encourage using books with study in a more inclusive library environment. Bright painted graphics are combined with natural materials such as birch plywood, this strikes a carefully considered balance between stimulation and calm.

Before: photos of the various spaces reconfigured to form the library
After: photo of new library space
Bespoke Joinery


We undertook an audit of existing library furniture to establish what could be reused in the first instance. We then designed several pieces of bespoke furniture to work with the existing space and help with library functions, this included moveable display cabinets and curved, fitted benching to create a well-being zone (shown on the right).

We also converted existing timber “pods” into a new librarian’s desk. This is an open and accessible space with bespoke flexible shelving designed to celebrate the School’s previously hidden archive, which includes a Virago collection celebrating female authors.

3D view of reconfiguration/joinery details in location of existing office

SWA worked within a tight budget to ensure that the space created would provide the school with the foundations they needed to develop a thriving learning environment. We prepared additional FF&E documentation to guide the school on items outside of the project scope – such as the moveable bookshelves and soft furnishings – and buy-in was developed through early and continued engagement with the school’s leadership team and the enthusiasm of the school’s passionate librarian. For example, the colourful mural walls in the library were invested in by the school – artwork by Matt Dosa.

Photographs by Beccy Lane