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Saturday02 August 2014

Architects start work on prefab school templates

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Government looks to slash time and construction costs through standardised designs

Architects are gearing up to bid for work designing a new generation of prefabricated schools.

BD has learned that a number of practices are working on templates in an attempt to pre-empt the government’s expected post-BSF move into standardisation.

The DfE’s Capital Review, led by executives from Dixons and Tesco, is expected to recommend that, in future, head teachers choose from a handful of templates specifying the design of buildings and their fittings. This could cut the time it takes to build a school from 18 months to 13 weeks and slash the cost by 30%.

Atkins, one of the first to get involved, has teamed up with contractor Willmott Dixon. The pair have several well-advanced designs, and the Department for Education is already directing clients their way.

Several other contractors such as Balfour Beatty and Laing O’Rourke are also believed to be working up templates.

Newcastle-based practice Space Group is developing its own version for a primary school that could be erected in six weeks for £1,200 per sq m.

Its executive Rob Charlton admitted it was a pragmatic solution that would never win the Stirling Prize but said the alternative was seeing architects being written out of school building entirely.

“We should embrace Michael Gove’s view of standardisation and look to learn from Tesco, Ikea and Dixons about how we can commoditise buildings,” he added.
Former RIBA president Sunand Prasad said: “I am not at all opposed to the idea that there can be repeats or templates, but I am opposed to the idea that you don’t take the site or the locality or the context into account.”

Stefan Jakobek, vice president and head of schools architecture at HOK London, agreed “great designers” could make the system work. “But it would be a tragedy if all the learning that has been gathered over recent years into what constitutes a great school is lost in an initiative that is driven by parsimony and make-do,” he said.

Architects fearful of a diminishing role in school building were dealt a further blow after it emerged that education secretary Michael Gove had again attacked them for getting rich at the expense of the public under BSF.

He told a free schools conference last weekend: “We won’t be getting Richard Rogers to design your school. We won’t be getting any ’award-winning architects’ to design it, because no-one in this room is here to make architects richer.”

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Readers' comments (19)

  • The idea of a range of thoroughly-researched, well thought-out templates is excellent, and Michael Gove should be congratulated for bringing good sense to school design after the mountains of wasted money, and complete exclusion of small local architectural practices, that flowed from the Building Schools for the Future programme. But if we are to avoid having our neighbourhoods blighted by a generation of banal nowheresville sheds, the templates should set out spaces and volumes, leaving a role for local architects to clothe the template to suit the local setting.
    Maritz Vandenberg.

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  • "Newcastle-based practice Space Group is developing its own version for a primary school that could be erected in six weeks for £1,200 per sq m."

    Hello?

    £1,200 per sq m?

    That's £ 12,917 per sq ft?

    Does someone on BD Oline want me to perform proof reading of articles before they publish them?

    "We won’t be getting any ’award-winning architects’ to design it, because no-one in this room is here to make architects richer."

    They'll be millionaires after their first job it its built for £1,200 per sq.m.

    As for the comments made by Gove, while in Britain a high price seems to go hand in hand with award winning design, I'm not sure the same is true in Ireland.

    Many of the RIAI and AAI awards are given to buildings in the middle bracket, value-led minimalist, modernist design.

    I refer Mr. Gove to the work of McGarry Ni Eanaigh in this regard, a firm who have won many awards and still managed to work within budgetary constraints.

    http://www.mcgnie.ie/

    I also refer him to McCullough Mulvin Architects

    http://www.mcculloughmulvin.com/

    They have just completed the new Trinity Long Room Hub and are working on the Dublin Dental Hospital.

    I should point out that I am not affiliated to that in any way commercially. Michael McGarry, Niall McCullough and Valarie Mulvin were a studiomasters in third and fourth year when I passed through Bolton Street DIT in the 'Eighties.

    This should come as no surprise - the principals of many of the better offices in Ireland also teach.

    As far as I know their buildings wear well, don't leak and don't cost a fortune to build - given the brief requirements.

    You don't need to adopt flat pack churn-them-out teaching methods because some lacklustre accountant who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing says you do.

    Don't let's give's lack of awareness of the benefits of design stifle creativity over in Britain.

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  • Um, Mr O'Neill - isn't £1,200 per sq m actually under £120 per sq ft. Or I am wrong? 1sq m = 10.7 sq ft...

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  • "£1,200 per sq m? That's £ 12,917 per sq ft?"

    Scary maths!

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  • James I think you got your sums wrong. If 1 sq m is made up of 10.7 sq feet shouldn't you be dividing £1,200 by 10.7 to get the cost per sq foot?

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  • Fantastic.....is this the idea of Architect's unity!!!.....looks like one's misery is anothers fortune. For how long mate..!

    helloo RIBA....r u there? have u got anything to say to your members.

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  • goosewing

    Architects start work on school templates?

    but I thought we were all losing our jobs because of the templates...

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  • It is interesting to see who the Government are already in talks with regarding the template schools, Atkins and Willmott Dixon.

    Once again, the big firms are already there at the expense of the smaller practices. I thought that the Government were proponents of Localism, how does this demonstrate localism if a consortium of two large firms rolls out a template that will be adopted wherever the budget dictates?

    Why not practice what you supposedly preach Mr. Gove and let schools work directly with the architect of their choice. Cut out the hoards of LA advisors and the Contractors advisors and get back to basics. DSDHA did a great job on Christ's College and DRMM likewise on Clapham Manor School. When architects work closely with clients and they share the same vision the results speak for themselves.

    P.S. Do you have to flatten whatever is on site to adopt these templates or can they 'plug-in' to existing buildings too?

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  • Steve - YES! That was the point?!

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  • govey won't like this....a big award winning design practice actually designing schools???

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