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Richmond Emporium Academy

Richmond Emporium Academy

Welcome to the Richmond Emporium Academy, a school like no other!


In July 2023, we took part in the RIBA Journal’s Department 4 Education Competition – a figurative ideas competition where participants could choose any UK department store and transform it into a school, utilising SterlingOSB Zero as a key material. We chose the empty House of Fraser in Richmond-upon-Thames and envisaged a School for the Future, where innovation, technology and sustainability converge. Here, the impact of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality, the climate emergency, STEM, business enterprise and the integration into a town centre come together to create an unparalleled learning environment.

Richmond Emporium Academy Sports Hall

Based in the deep plan 1960s department store, the key architectural moves place all the large, social spaces at the heart of the school, surrounded by learning environments on a floor-by-floor basis, all topped with a new SterlingOSB Zero covered play space on the roof. The existing site also benefits from an alleyway of smaller Victorian shopfronts – the vision here was to create a new business enterprise facility where students can promote and sell the things created in the school and learn sales and marketing skills, whilst reinvigorating the town centre.

Richmond Emporium Academy Science Classroom

Recognising the urgent need to address the climate emergency, all external walls would be internally lined with SterlingOSB Zero to improve the thermal performance. The building itself would then benefit from energy-efficient features, such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems and green walls in a hydroponic science garden. Students would actively engage in projects that promote eco-consciousness. By retrofitting this existing building rather than demolishing it, we would also be saving a lot of embodied carbon. Though this competition was entirely figurative, the idea of transforming existing vacant department stores could certainly be a very sustainable and successful model to transform our town centres and social integration indeed…

Richmond Emporium Academy Library

You may notice our visuals are a little different to our usual work, and that’s because we wanted to also learn whilst creating this education hub. Given AI is at the core of the school’s vision, we decided to practice with Midjourney as part of our submission. We tested lots of different views and were impressed with its power! We still have a lot to learn to perfect these so we look forward to working more with this tool as a practice going forward!

Our secondary school of the future represents a transformative approach to repurposing redundant high street department stores to educate and harness the power of AI, virtual reality, sustainability, STEM and business enterprise. It could be a place where students can explore their passions, develop essential skills and prepare for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century. The Richmond Emporium Academy would empower the next generation of leaders, problem solvers and change-makers.

Richmond Emporium Exploded Axonometric

Sadly on this occasion we didn’t win, but we were really impressed with the winning and shortlisted entries and would like to pass on our congratulations to Paul Cashin Architects & Keith Evans Architects for their winning design! A lot of effort went into all of these submissions which really shows just how dedicated and passionate our profession is.

Department Store School
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