Friday18 August 2017

Schools architects likened to oxen

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Schools architects in the brave new world of standardisation have been likened to oxen after the invention of tractors

Simon Lucas, head of education and children’s services at cost consultant EC Harris, urged the profession to be realistic about the future of school design.

Shortly before he was due to speak at the BSEC education conference which opens at London’s ExCel today, he told BD: “This is terribly provocative but if there’s not an increasing role for architects – well, OK.

“After the invention of the internal combustion engine there was no longer a role for oxen-pulled ploughs. No one said, ‘Should we keep on as we are because we’ve got lots of oxen?’ That’s an incredibly unkind analogy.”

His vision of standardisation is for the buildings to be essentially kit-built so that the lion’s share of the money could be invested in creating genuinely clever interiors.

A former teacher, he said classrooms needed to be capable of reconfiguration in minutes to be truly flexible.

He said there would be a role for architects here – but also for product designers, interior designers and engineers.

Architects would also be needed to fit schools into tricky landscapes and conservation areas, he said.

“It’s not the complete removal of a role but a change of role,” he said.

“We’ll see a bigger focus on design and less on architecture.

“What you are not doing is spending a large proportion of the budget on the shell. You still have to make it fit in the landscape, do what it does and look attractive, but the focus will be a lot more on what happens inside.”

But he also warned that standardisation done badly could dictate the curriculum rather than the other way round.

“The question is where does standardisation stop and imposition begin? I increasingly believe there’s a role for very clever engineering design,” he added.



Readers' comments (32)

  • I think Gove and the Lucas need to look at where the money really goes. Just to give them a clue, check out the profits the builders make. That's the reason schools cost so much yet often fail to achieve a reasonable standard. Check out the car park of the site office. It's the builders who drive the X5 while the architects and engineers potter about in their Ford, Skodas and if there really lucky a Honda.

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  • Iain Johnston

    CLASP v2.0?

    Oxen? a QS-driven vision putting the cart before the horse

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  • Compelling case but Wigglesworth has already given a very good reason why this man's vision is to a lrge degree un-tenable; will people want to work and be taught in places that are made in this way?

    What of the effect on the cohesion of the city itself which the outside of a building addresses? Unless we are going to say goodbye completely to the notion of considered city making / planning, this man's ideas are not tenable. The scary thing is that the devlopment of crass forms of procurement, catalysed by the likes of Egan, Tesco etc.. has already taken us half the way there.

    The other thing about this spontaneous outbreak MMC eulogising is that the time for adpoting it is not now - in the middle of double dip recession - but when economoc times are good because of the high level of captial investment that is needed in terms of the building of factories, gearing up of manufacturing and training of the workforce that MMC prefab demands in order to make it sustainable / workable in both the long and short term.

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  • Typical QS claptrap : All my experiences of QS driven design decisions have resulted in client disaster!!! The philosophical and psychological parameters behind educational environments are beyond the reach of most bean-counters : all most QS's do is to see interior design and landscaping as add/stick on afterthoughts to banal, cost driven quasi-agricultural structures. As for Gove : he seems to think education needs an element of pain and suffering for it to have any value??!!! Says a lot about his own education and fixations rather than the agenda of the nation as a whole!!!!! Dangerous individuals to have anywhere near core decisions about the future of educational environments. Now if they proposed retrospective legislation to wind down/remove PFI contracts I could respect both : it's the process that is flawed, not the people. Find a viable basis to fund building appropriate schools and the problem would solve itself!

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  • Illuminating extractfrom 1950 Ministry of Education MOE Report

    ‘We are forced to choose between three courses of action.

    The first is to build only the small amount we’re likely to be able to afford.

    The second is to accept a drastic reduction in space and quality whilst maintaining the same total.

    The third course is to approach the whole problem of building afresh, with the object of devising a fundamentally simpler technique: a technique which gives us greater beauty, comfort and value at a lower cost’

    1950 Ministry of Education Report MOE


    Then in 1957 the MOE Pamphlet No 33
    The story of post-war school building (MOE, 1957) identified five ways in which the cost per square foot of school building had been restrained from rising as fast or as steeply as general building costs:

    By greater knowledge and control of the constituent items of cost (through cost analysis and cost planning)

    By substantial reduction in the in the cubic content of each school building (mainly by lowering ceiling heights)

    By harnessing scientific and industrial skills to compliment architecture skill in search of better and more economical methods of solving old problems (through prefabrication, better fire protection, more efficient light fittings and reduction in underground ducts)

    By reducing the scale of school buildings and their fittings from that of an adults to that of a child’s world (toilet facilities, cloakroom fittings, cupboards and furniture)

    By not indulging in costly architectural styles and devices.
    History and making sure that you do not repeat errors that others have made but learn from them and repeat the good things they invented or discovered seems to be a lost skill amongst many - in this instant age people seem to only shoot from the hip and look for a twitter worthy snappy headline grabbing comment.

    Fundamentally good education relies on good teachers, support from parents etc students who are cared for both socially, economically, well fed and nourished both physically and spiritually and given a balanced opportunity to investigate by themselves as well as being directed - this can be supported by good design but never replaced by it - however bad design or a lack of it can hamper good education - back in the 50's and 60's a number of standard designs were adopted for schools and then applied badly with little understanding of orientation, levels, context etc.

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  • Didn't we have CLASP in the 60's ?
    Few were attractive and most of these buildings have or need to be replaced because the materials used were often not so good and even then it was as 'cheap' to build traditionally.

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  • SAndals23

    Whilst the anology is poor, the points made have a good deal of validity. An agreed degree of standardisation - from brief, through classroom sizes, to a larger kit of bits would streamline the process and be more cost effective where it matters. This need not necessarily be to the detrement of the product - getting the standardised kit of bits right is the trick.
    (if every PS classroom looked like the Archetype one in the image then I personally would be happy with the product)

    If the front end cost can be significantly lower, then more schools can potentially be built. Architects will still be required to tailor these KoBs to the client and be site and context specific. If architects are throwing the dummy out of the pram because they don't have blank sheets of paper to start with, then they need to dry their eyes, put their egos back in check and grow a set.

    As an educational architect who has designed over 20 schools, I would welcome a joined up more cost effective centrally led approach to the design and procurement of the future school estate - as long as we get the chance to get the KoB right!

    The standardised components need to be fit for purpose and designed over a period of extensive consultation with the right people. They need to be designed to the right areas with good natural daylighting and ventillation. They need to be spaces designed for their specific users and be stimulating, fun and inspirational. They need to consider environmental comfort and life cycle - and they need to be cost effective and flexible enough to allow adaptability over their design life.
    They must not be rushed and they must not need to be cheap.

    As architects we have still have a considerable opportunity to effect positive change to education system in the future.

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  • "We’ll see a bigger focus on design and less on architecture". "...the focus will be a lot more on what happens inside.”

    Two points:
    1) Architecture is design
    2) Architecture is driven by 'what happens inside'

    Simon appears to believe architecture is merely about the outer shape and appearance of a building, but how does he think achitects get there? Isn't building form/aesthetic a result of the arduous lengths gone through to consider circulation, navigation, multi-use spaces etc? It's a indication of the lengths we have to go to change the public perception of what an architect is and does

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  • How can the decision to use standardised school design be compared to the invention of the tractor? There is no technological breakthrough here. We have had the ability to use standardised building design for decades. It hasn’t worked very well. Portable classrooms are one example that has caught on. They have their place under certain circumstances, but they can’t be compared to a well-designed, purpose built school building. There is a value to designing our buildings to fit the people and places they are to serve. Architects are not out-of-date technology. Wherever sophisticated societies exist, there is a place for architecture. Good design is not a luxury. It is only a matter of where you put your priorities. It seems that the current government is putting its priorities firmly in the hands of corporate interests instead of our children.

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  • so we are either:-
    A. the fat cats licking up the cream OR
    B. dumb beasts of burden

    which is better... there's only one way to find out

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