Monthly Archives: July 2012

Getting back to basics

When you have been involved in a major project over time it is possible for the imperatives that drove you to it in the first place to become indistinct in the sheer effort of bringing it off. I was forcefully reminded of these imperatives during today’s workshop on design thinking with Ewan McIntosh and Tom Barrett from NoTosh at the BLC 12 preconference programme. Our group worked through the question: “How might we play with the notion of time in our school” and one conclusion we agreed on is that it is crucial to have learning spaces that enable learning in a variety of contexts. Learning is enabled in different settings (classrooms, small meeting rooms, specialist areas) and spaces for that learning need to be available over different timescales (short lessons, long term display and thinking areas).

Since its striking structure emerged over the course of its construction the Mabel Fidler Building at Ravenswood School the focus has been on its appearance. Its selection for the AIA award, the Sulman medal, has drawn further discussion of this about its design. However, as I was reminded powerfully today, it was not primarily aesthetics that drove this building project but the extent to which it embodied ideas about education.

The Mabel Fidler Building puts the library, or learning resources centre, at the heart of the campus and at its main entrance. It has spaces that allow learning to take place in different settings suitable to the activities in which students are engaged. The key to the design of educational buildings is to allow choices to be made by students and teachers by providing a range of spaces. These may be the traditional classroom, areas for small group work, for self-directed leaning or for large group activities. The building enables a whole range of overlapping learning, recreational and physical activities in a structure that is essentially a shell, able to be adapted to other uses over time. Integration of technology into these spaces is also a vital aspect of this design.

The pace of change in education makes it very difficult to plan buildings that will continue to be useful to schools in the future. Who knows in twenty years time whether the school day will look the way it does today? Ideally we should be planning and building school facilities with a view to possible future uses that may as yet not have been contemplated.