Houlton Secondary School

The refurbishment and alteration of the former Rugby Radio Station into a large secondary and Sixth Form school. The Grade II listed building was built in 1926 and hosted the first transatlantic telephone call to New York, transmitted telegraph messages to the Commonwealth and communicated with nuclear subs during the cold war, all via 250m tall aerial masts.

The design of the new school involved the adaptation of the historically fascinating buildings into new school facilities including two new teaching blocks for Humanities and STEM, a new Sports Hall, drained external sports pitches, car parking, access roads and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS).

Listed Building consent was required to undertake careful investigations into the fabric and condition of the existing buildings.

A new steelwork frame has been threaded through the first floor of the existing Transmission Block to provide an additional four floors of accommodation, while leaving the existing first floor girder beams exposed and intact. The new steel frame sits on piled foundations, constructed so as not to undermine the existing foundations. The roof of the Transmission Block has been raised, and a cornice reinstated to match that which was destroyed by a fire in 1943.

To improve circulation throughout the buildings, two steelwork scissor stairs have been constructed at each end of the Transmission Block and ring beams added to restrain the existing walls around the new stair voids. Two further steel staircases have been inserted into the Accommodation Block.

External openings were adjusted in the Power Block to suit its new use as a Dining and Main Hall. New steel frames have been inserted, on local spread foundations cut through the existing slab, to support a Sixth Form dining area over the new kitchen and Control Room space to serve the Main Hall.

The thermal performance of the existing and new buildings is paramount. Thermal breaks have been used throughout to isolate the new steel frames from the foundations and external cladding. 

While the tall aerial masts were demolished in 2007, the four smaller masts that remained were dismantled, cleaned, repaired and reinstated.

The new school is at the heart of the surrounding Houlton development including 6,200 new homes, three new primary schools, and 24 hectares of open spaces and sports pitches.

Completed 2021.

Project Information


Urban & Civic


van Heyningen & Haward




James Brittain


Courtesy of Urban & Civic


AJ Retrofit Award, Shortlist 2023
RIBA West Midland Award Winner 2023
AJ Architecture Awards, Design of the Year Winner 2022
AJ Architecture Awards, Refurbishment Winner 2022
Brick Awards, Refurbishment Winner 2022
Building Magazine Awards, Project of the Year Winner 2022
LABC Building Excellence Awards - Best Public or Community Building, Highly Commended 2022
RICS West Midlands Refurbishment/Revitalisation Project Award 2022