Time and time again we have found that it is entirely possible to improve older buildings, retain their intrinsic character, and even incorporate current and future trends in teaching. As a team we are no strangers to innovative repurposing of buildings to create outstanding educational spaces that deliver a ‘wow factor’ for both educationalists and students. All it takes is inventive and resourceful use of budgets and real collaboration between all stakeholders.
So, what delivers a great school and what are the ingredients that make something leap beyond the mundane and enter the territory of the inspirational? First of all, partnership is vital. Architects, consultants and designers need to work together in a truly symbiotic way and they all need to work with (and understand) those who will use the school – namely the teachers and the students. Understanding their requirements, desires and challenges will go a long way. Secondly, the team needs to both understand and embrace change. All parties should address where teaching will be in say 10-20 years time. This throws up all manner of topics such as, will we still have classrooms as we know them or will we have more flexible spaces?
Our work for King’s Maths School supports a ‘break-out’ strategy, with brightly coloured pods allowing students to work alone or in small groups. We also need to think about some real fundamentals like the use of walls in the classroom. Currently walls are a vital teaching aid that provides show-space for students work, particularly in primary schools. However, walls can be made to slide and fold so that space can be reconfigured. The question is whether this adds to or subtracts from the ameneties on offer to teachers? Overall It’s vitally important that architects and designers challenge schools to think outside the box and if they do, some great things can be done. All it takes is collaboration, imagination and a sensible budget.