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Tuesday29 July 2014

When one design fits none

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A new range of standardised school buildings is likely to fail on all counts

Including systems named after such radical figures as Paxton, Newton and Keynes, Wilmott Dixons’ Sunesis range of standardised designs comes pre-billed as a revolution in school design.

Design Council Cabe’s positive design reviews of the first buildings to be proposed using the Keynes system, have made it clear that the watchdog has no intention of standing in the way. But how much uptake of standardisation are we really going to see? In naming one of their systems after Keynes - an economist who famously advocated governments spending their way out of economic downturns - Wilmott Dixon might certainly be accused of wishful thinking.

But even if significantly increased funding does come on-stream, it remains far from clear how many schools are going to prove capable of accommodating standardised solutions. The sites in Rugby and the Isle of Wight, for which the first two Keynes system buildings have been proposed, are not complicated and yet even Cabe has had to acknowledge the cack-handedness with which the projects’ external spaces have been handled. The systems are sure to be tested significantly harder when schools with more built-up sites try to use them.

Of course, there will be those who argue that in the present climate, we have to prioritise delivery over quality - that the standardised solution is all that we can afford. But are standardised solutions necessarily cheaper? Looking back to the schools produced in the 1970s - the last time that standardisation was promoted as an ideal - it is clear that reality was always more complex than a Soviet-style centrally implemented solution could ever cater for. In truth, no two “standardised” schools were ever the same.

So who does benefit from standardisation? Ultimately, only the handful of contractors large enough to be able to develop and market their own systems. It is therefore a procurement culture entirely at odds with the principle of competition. That fundamental failing threatens to ensure that the next generation of school buildings will not only be inadequate to their purpose but significantly more expensive too.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Standardisation is not about a full footprint being the same across all solutions. Its broadly about standard sizes and promotion of general teaching spaces that can be used by all subjects. Take a standard size class, same shape (lets say square for arguments sake, can be used by pretty much most subjects as a teaching space) Specialisations are usually larger and more expensive, but what if 1 square plus half another equal those requirements. align 3 squares along side each other, and you get 3 GT spaces or 2 specialist spaces (technology / science lab etc etc).

    These standard spaces can be effectively costed. Now assuming your playing within optimal structural bays, environmental/mech ventilation/lighting and all work within standardised rules.

    The problem architects now face is to provide a satisfactory curriculum adjacency and ensure the contractors (architects client) don't just clad it in the cheapest panels around.

    What schools get are new buildings new class rooms that are adaptable and ultimately 100 times more flexible than most current schools. The schools have to accept a new way to deliver the education, which has to deal with flexibility and passive supervision rather than traditional classroom / staffroom set ups.

    They get a NEW school when the economy has been shot to bits and during a time the construction industry is struggling to pick its self up.

    The are better questions to be asked.... and questioning the design and or idea of standardisation is not right direction....

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  • I'm not even convinced that these schemes will reduce cost, but lets wait and see. All I know is that generally when corporate Britain leads government in direction that is supposed to deliver savings the result is often, equal or greater in cost.

    Also with Architects out of the way and clients that will often only build once in their life the likelihood is that schools will not understand what they are buying.I'm not even convinced that these schemes will reduce cost, but lets wait and see. All I know is that generally when corporate Britain leads government in direction that is supposed to deliver savings the result is often, equal or greater in cost.

    Also with Architects out of the way and clients that will often only build once in their life the likelihood is that schools wi

    Before that illicits the response that teachers know what they need in a classroom, I'll observe that every teacher I have met has a different understanding of what they want from a class and invariably has not read the guidance.

    But I digress, its the cost we need to keep an eye on, these teams need to be scrutinised on what they have said they'll deliver.

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