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Hobbit hill is pupils' turf

Bristol school to be built into sloping fields and hidden under grass to keep it out of locals' sight. Stephen Lucas reports

An invisible school hidden in the side of a hill sounds like somewhere Tolkien's hobbits might knuckle down to their studies.

In fact, it is the latest brainwave from a visionary team of architects designed to tackle the problem of north Bristol's oversubscribed secondaries.

The pound;28.5 million North Bristol Institute will be built into sloping playing fields and then covered with grass because nearby residents said that any other design would be an eyesore.

In the summer, art and geography lessons will take place on the turf room and every level of the four-storey building will be accessible via a wheelchair-friendly sloping street covered by a translucent screen.

It has been dubbed School Underhill by Building Design Partnership, the architects behind it. Although it will be camouflaged, sunlight will filter into classrooms via the sloping street.

Julia Voke, 41, whose house overlooks the site, has two children, Ella, eight, and Owen, five, who will attend the school. She said: "School Underhill is going to help the environment - there will be less pollution because children will be able to walk to school, and the fact they can sit out on the grass roof for lessons will add immensely to their educational experience."

Tim Trout, 43, whose children Isobel, eight, and Toby, five, will also go to the school, said: "This school is desperately needed. In this part of Bristol the secondaries are oversubscribed."

The 1,400-place school, to open in 2006, has been funded by the Learning and Skills Council, the Government and Bristol council.

Tony McGuirk, a director at BDP, said: "It does have a Tolkien aspect and it is about imagination rather than logic. The site is surrounded by middle-class housing so there was some controversy over building a school.

But a lot of residents have now become very interested in the underground version. The pupils will be able to have geography and art lessons on the turf and lichen slope, and you'll get spectacular views of the city."

BDP designed Hampden Gurney, the prize-winning school in London, and were among the architects chosen by the Government to design a 21st-century primary for its Building Schools for the Future programme.

It came up with the Beehive school - honeycomb-shaped classrooms piled one on top of the other, which will be built in inner-city Birmingham.

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