“Futuristic” is far from an unworthy description of the newly built Welsh Assembly government-funded Abergwynfi Primary School. The £4 million project has created a landmark for the former Afan Valley mining village, but the term hardly does justice to a design that is without doubt a break with convention. The use of zinc will draw further attention to this local authority’s vision of education in the 21st century.

Zinc was specified for the circular “pod” classroom roofs, cladding of connecting corridor walls and guttering system and the end result is made all the more striking through use of the metal in its natural finish. VMZINC’s standing seam system was chosen in preference to single ply and aluminium on the grounds of sustainability, long design life and, perhaps more surprisingly, low initial cost.

Neath Port Talbot Council’s principal architectural manager, Jonathan Morris, commented on some of the challenges that the design presented. He said: “The available building site was limited to a relatively small triangular area by virtue of mine working infill and a river that passes underground near the existing infant school building.

“A feasibility study considered extending the existing 1970s flat-roof buildings but demolition was found to be more economical. As part of the Afan Valley Strategy programme we also wanted to develop a school with community use as a primary consideration and there was no intrinsic benefit in upgrading such a structure.

“It was decided to create seven classrooms accommodating up to 210 pupils, in addition to a central hall, IT suite, libraries, offices, a nursery with its own access and of course car parking. We developed the concept of two wings from a large central hall using circular buildings to make the teaching more inclusive. The hall and community classrooms form the core of the building and have been designed in such a way that they can be closed off from the remaining school area.

“The school has been designed to achieve a BREEAM ‘excellent’ rating and the argument for use of zinc was very powerful by virtue of its recyclability and guaranteed performance. Development over time of an attractive, totally natural, self-protecting patina means it will continue to add focus to the design while requiring virtually no maintenance. This was our first experience of specifying zinc, and there were a good many technical issues to address.

“The standing seam system has been installed at pitches between 3° and 15° on roofs ranging in height from 3.5m to 12.5m. Some of the curved section details as initially drawn up would have required off-site fabrication. However, technical support throughout from the contractors and VMZINC enabled us to adapt a more practical approach so mocked-up sections could be produced, approved and all work done on site.

“Designs were complex and to maintain air-tightness in the roof and prevent moisture entering it we used a vapour control layer with the membrane and two types of insulation. Windows will open in the roof automatically in order to offset temperature increase and reduce CO2 levels when necessary.

“The roofs also had to be insulated effectively to ensure acoustic performance throughout the school met BB93 and part E requirements. Clear oral learning had to be guaranteed without disruption from other noise sources, with airborne sound insulation between spaces and protection against reverberation in teaching and study spaces.”