Making children’s spaces and the schools they’d like

Set against the backdrop of the secondary citizenship curriculum, increased children’s participation in decision making, and more opportunity for contact between young people and architects, the stage is now set for new ways of working between school teachers, architects and young people. As we have shown, a younger generation of architects like van der Heijden and de Rijke Marsh Morgan are able to collaborate with young people on the basis of interpreting their imaginative representation of the spaces they use in school buildings.

Hopefully, school children will continue to be given the opportunity to collaborate with architects and to have access to design projects of the kind seen at Kingsdale (with School Works), at New End and Quarry Brae Primary schools (joinedupdesignforschools/Sorrell Foundation). As well as complementing existing National Curriculum work and having significant impact on pupils’ confidence and self-esteem (Adams & Ingham, 1998; Seymour et al., 2001; Bentley, Fairley & Wright, 2001, see Bibliography), projects of this kind open up whole new ways of understanding the evolving nature of both education (pedagogy and practice) and of school buildings as an architectural form. With this twin approach, we move closer to a new conception of how young people and children explore and define their space at school.

Prompted by the prospect of working with architects appointed to make actual, structural change to the fabric of school buildings, the collaborations between architects and young people which we have looked at in this chapter succeed on the basis that the school children and teachers involved have been given enough time to develop their own understanding of architectural space and the built environment around them.

Indeed, we would argue that investment in time embedded within projects like School Works and Making Fish (at St Jude’s Primary, Glasgow) lies at the heart of their success. These initiatives in particular have benefited from the built-in ingredient of elongated collaborative periods in each project timetable. Young people and architects alike need this kind of creative gestation period during which there is enough space to allow design ideas to develop and for them to be explored in both conceptual and detailed terms. Given enough time, the inherent creativity of educators and architects can transform perceptions of what is possible and of what works. For collaborative school design projects of this kind to succeed, we also need to allow for working relationships between architect and student which can be sustained over time.

By definition then, the projects discussed above place a particularly strong emphasis on process, rather than on product alone. If we are to realize the political vision of bespoke, community-specific designs for individual schools, each with their own specialized identity and learning resources nurtured at the heart of the community, we will need to engage pupils, teachers and parents alike in a creative and responsive process based on mutual understanding and a collective vision.

To better support schools managing change, we need to develop an ongoing discourse within the school community, using the kind of architectural language discussed above, in which ways are found for young people to articulate their own insight into the workings of the architectural space around them. Educationally, we need to develop an ongoing relationship in space and time between the pupil and the school environment. We need to find ways of linking National Curriculum schemes of work to a sustained, ongoing analysis of the school’s architectural form and the building’s users, not simply in response to an architect’s proposed scheme in school, not for a day alone, but every year, perhaps even every term, as needs dictate.

Like the adults around them, schoolchildren too adapt to the difficulties inherent in school buildings. Whether in terms of air quality, temperature control (and poor ventilation), unforgiving acoustics in circulation spaces and large open halls, for example, or cramped ‘one-size fits-all’ accommodation and furniture – to name just a few – young people develop their own highly detailed knowledge and highly personal experience of the spaces within school buildings. There is a wide range of architectural and design problems in the current UK school building stock; and as the new buildings are user-tested and lived in, new problems will emerge. Leaving recent reports of PFI ‘disaster schools’ aside, there will be a need to build capacity within school communities to analyse and resolve design faults as new buildings ‘learn’ how to service their occupants (Brand, 1997, see Bibliography).

In order to better resolve issues around lighting, for example, a school might take upon itself to embark on a learning project on ‘Light’, to explore aspects of lighting in its building/s. Children’s insight into aspects of the quality of natural daylighting, glare, heat loss, the combination of tall ceilings and high south-facing windows, for example, in specific rooms and spaces, might open up whole new areas of design possibilities. It is the intimate and detailed nature of children’s knowledge of specific spaces in school buildings which might best illicit design ideas which, over time, emerge from a creative exchange centred around attitudes to the quality and qualities of space.

Not only does work of this kind create opportunities for applied curriculum work and this kind of ongoing dialogue help bring about a more articulate, focused client group with which to engage architects, but sustained, ongoing dialogue of this kind might also help bring about a new relationship between young people and the built environment around them: both inside school and outside it.

On the basis that, as Worple (2000, see Bibliography) suggests, ‘it is the people who use space who “create” it just as much as do those who design it; indeed arguably more so’; and in order to build capacity in schools, we might shift our traditional expectation of architects (as consultants able to resolve all the problems of a school’s infrastructure in one go), towards a new collaborative process in which the ongoing development of children’s design ideas becomes part of the school’s learning programme and culture.

This in turn calls for a more generous, ‘loose-fit’ type of school architecture which is more responsive to the changing needs of the school community. As has been tried and tested in the pre-schools of Reggio Emilia, educational space might be reinterpreted as a ‘ “container” that favours social interaction, exploration, and learning’ and not as an institution built on the shifting sands of received wisdom.76 Rather than a fossilization of received policy at a given date, such an architecture would be more of a supportive, infrastructural backdrop onto which pupils and teachers could project, test and remodel their own ideas about the physical environment in which they work.

As adults, we might at the same time foster a whole generation of young people who understand and care more about the architecture of their own school buildings and who are more able to take on greater responsibility for children’s spaces in the built environment around them. Schoolchildren in turn might just get the school’s they’d like.


1 See in particular Chapter 1 in Worple, K. (2000). Here Comes The Sun: Architecture and public space in twentieth-century European culture. London: Reaktion Books.

2 Bachelard, G. (1958). See in particular Chapter 1: The House. From Cellar to Garret. The Significance of the Hut. In The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press.

3 Henri Lefevre’s The Production of Space (1970) remains one of the most persuasive analyses of the social, political and cultural mechanisms at work in the organization of the built environment.

4 Montessori, M. (1936). The Secret of Childhood. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

5 Edwards, C., Gandini, L. and Forman, G. (eds) (2000). See in particular Chapter 9 in The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach, Advanced Reflections. Greenwich, CT and London: Ablex Publishing Corp.

6 Malaguzzi, L. (1996). cited in The Municipal Infant-Toddler Centers and PreSchools of Reggio Emilia. Reggio Emilia: Reggio Children Srl, p. 29.

7 Gandini, L. (2000). Educational and Caring Spaces in The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach, Advanced Reflections pp. 161-177, Greenwich, CT and London: Ablex Publishing Corp.

8 Saint, A. (1991). Towards a Social Architecture, The role of school building in post-war England. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

9 Elkind, D. (1981). The Hurried Child. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, p. 47.

10 Discussed in detail in Part Four, School Works is a DfES-sponsored secondary school ‘design initiative’ looking at new ways to link schools design to pupil achievement. Primary children at Lightwoods school worked with architect Will Alsop on the design of a new school art space, as reported in The Guardian, May 27, 2003.

11 Blishen, E. (1969). The School That I’d Like. London: Penguin, p. 9.

12 See also: Burke, C. and Grosvenor, I. (2003). The School I’d Like: Children and Young People’s Reflections on an Education for the 21st Century. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Whilst essentially a comprehensive review of the whole state education system, Lady Plowden also observed that ‘more architects need to spend more time in schools getting to understand their needs’, Plowden Report, (1967) London: HMSO, p. 397.

13 Blishen, E. (1969). The School that I’d like. London: Penguin, p. 12.

14 ibid p. 9.

15 With research and lobbying relationships to New Labour, DEMOS and The Architecture Foundation both played key roles in arguing for and establishing the School Works project between 1999 and 2001. See http://www. demos. org. uk and http://www. architecturefoundation. org. uk

16 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. (1989).

17 In October 2002, The Times Educational Supplement reported ‘a nationwide PFI con­struction and maintenance programme worth £45 billion’ with the front page headline: ‘Private building deal for every secondary school in England’. (October 4, 2002.) By July 2003, the Government’s own advocate for design quality, the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment (CABE) was deploying ‘enablers’ on 190 PFI schools projects with 26 local education authorities around the UK. See http://www. cabe. org. uk

18 As an indication of the sheer scale, volume and market-driven pace of construction demanded by the UK Government’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI), it is worth noting Phillipa White’s 2002 report in the TES that Stoke-on – Trent LEA has ‘handed over’ its 122 schools to private construction company Balfour Beattie, for example, and that construction company Jarvis has a contract with Scotland’s Dumfries & Galloway LEA for 130 schools, another with Norfolk County LEA to rebuild 15 schools and a third to build and remodel 89 schools for Liverpool City Council to the tune of £300 m. TES, October 4th, 2002.

19 Rogers, R. (1997). Cities for a small planet. London: Faber & Faber, p. 107.

20 Cargill Thompson, J. (1999). Early Learning, RIBA Journal, September 1999, p. 15.

21 Amongst the most infamous of criticisms was that made by HRH Prince Charles of Sir Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre building, opened in 1976 on London’s South Bank. The Prince sug­gested that Lasdun’s design was ‘a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting.’

22 Cited in the Introduction to: Frost, N. (1987). Architects-In-Schools. London: RIBA.

23 In the spring of 2003, the Building Experiences Trust was reconstituted as The Built Environment Education Trust, based in Cambridge and operating as a member of the Architecture Centre Network under the name ‘shape Cambridge’ See http://www. shape- cambridge. org. uk

24 At the Bauhaus, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy ‘spoke of the emotional content of mathematical forms, which… seem to express universal laws which can be felt.’ Cited by Rowland, K. (1976). Visual Education and Beyond. London: Ginn & Co., p. 114.

25 Read, J. (1992). Cited in Plato’s Laws, 1953 trans. Para 643, p. 24, in Exploring Learning: young children and blockplay. London: Paul Chapman Publishing.

26 As well as deciding that her son would be an architect, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother bought a set of Froebel Gifts for her young son. In his autobiography, the great American architect recalls: ‘the smooth shapely maple blocks with which to build, the sense of which never afterwards leaves the fingers: so form became feeling… Here was something for invention to seize and use to create.’ Lloyd Wright, F. (1932). My Autobigraphy, p. 11. original emphasis, cited in Read, J. (1992). ibid.

27 Barthes, R. (1957). Mythologies. Vintage, p. 53.

28 Kostof, S. (1985). A History of Architecture. Oxford: OUP, p. 748.

29 More information about the Architecture

Workshops Association can be found at http://www. awa. ndo. co. uk (Child’s own


30 Rowland, K. (1976). Visual Education & Beyond. London: Ginn, p. 114.

31 Coleman, R. (1988). The Art of Work. London: Pluto Press, p. 6.

32 Largely thanks to the BET and Frost’s small team of architects delivering architecture workshops around the UK to thousands of pri­mary children and secondary students by the mid-1990s, it could be said that young people were engaged in a deeper understanding of what architects do and how an architectural process evolves.

33 See http://www. architecturecentre. net

34 Architecture Foundation. (2001). 10th

Anniversary booklet. London: Architecture


35 Architecture Week. (2002). Promotional booklet. London: Arts Council.

36 Dyckhoff, T. (2000). Hot Property in London Open House, A celebration of London’s architecture. London: London Open House/The Guardian p. 2.

37 ‘Circle Time’ takes its name from the ‘quality circles’ which have been used as a mechanism for mediation in industry. Circle Time as practised in UK Primary Schools centres around small groups sitting in a circle together in order to discuss difficult aspects of the school day and/or to collectively facilitate conflict resolution. See http://www. antibullying. net/circletimeinfo. htm

38 Adams & Ingham, Participation Chapter 1.

39 In October 2002, the DfES announced proposals to refurbish all British secondary schools under the PFI worth up to £45 billion. (The Guardian, 4/10/02).

40 DfES. (2002). Schools For The Future. London: HMSO, p. 63.

41 See also Delivering Results, a strategy to 2006 (PwC, 2001). See http://www. dfes. gov. uk/ delivering-results

42 The DfES’ own ‘Classroom of the Future’ initia­tive shared £10 million between 12 LEAs for ‘the creation of learning environments that are imaginative and stimulating, with the aim of inspiring children to achieve more’. By April 2003, 32 new school building pilot projects had been developed, some to completion. See http://www. teachernet. gov. uk

43 Coined by University of North London Architecture department’s Undergraduate studio 6 (1999-2000), the phrase ‘Designing for Real’ (D4R) is derived from the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit’s ‘Planning for Real’ process designed for local people to engage in local planning issues and procedures resulting in actual change to their neighbour­hoods and communities.

44 Clark, H. (2002). Building Education. The role of the physical environment in enhancing teaching and research. London: University of London Institute of Education, p. 17.

45 Chiles, P. (2001). Primary Ideas, Architectural projects for ages seven and over. Sheffield: Research Design Unit, University of Sheffield. Contact p. chiles@sheffield. ac. uk

46 Bentley, T., Fairley, C. and Wright, S. (2001). Design For Learning. London: Demos, p. 32.

47 ibid. p. 33.

48 ibid. p. 32.

49 Clark, H. (2002). Building Education: The role of the physical environment in enhancing teaching and research. London: University of London Institute of Education.

50 Bentley, T., Fairley, C. and Wright, S. (2001). Design for Learning. London: Demos, p. 29.

51 Adams. E. (2002). Breaking Boundaries. Kent: Kent Architecture Centre, p. 42.

52 Both Situationism and Phenomenology offer ways for students to study the existing sensual, spatial and temporal context within which they are intending to design. Situationism’s most famous proponent was Guy Debord. The movement was active in 1950s Paris and was a response to the belief that modern cities had reduced their occupants to being mere specators of life without taking part in or involving themselves in the events that were taking place around them. Phenomenology, as developed by Heidegger and Gadamer, is the study of the appearance of phenomena. It seeks a deep understanding of truth by interpreting a heightened sensory perception of a situation.

53 Segal, W (1981/2).

Walter Segal was an architect who made a huge contribution to the self-build movement in the UK. He proposed a system of timber housing which made it easier for semi-skilled families to design and build their own dwellings.

54 Price, C. and Obrist, H. (2001). Unpublished transcript of conversation between Cedric Price and Hans Ulrich Obrist.

55 Undergraduate studio 6 (1999-2000) was run by Robert Barnes and Maurice Mitchell. Students involved in the D4R research were Matthew Barton, Miriam Bradford, Kim Chong, Carlos Efstathiou, Asua-Shirley Ellimah, Steven van der Heijden, Lesley Heron, Sonia John, Sam Jones, Ajesope Jumo, Christabelle Lim, Shereen Mahmoud, Rupali Mehendiratta, Alison Ng, Vanda Oliveira, Tea Puric, Martin Steele, Armelle Tardiveau, Matthieu Tisserand, Clifford Too, Dimitrios Vasmatzis and Ignazio Vok.

56 The Dunblane Massacre saw 16 children and their teacher killed and 12 other children and 2 teachers injured by a lone gunman in the grounds of Dunblane Primary School, Scotland (March 1996).

57 Taking some inspiration from the work of Duiker and Hertzberger, one notable exception is the rebuilt Hampden Gurney CE

Primary School in London whose sheltered, but open-air play decks and ‘six levels of teaching, sport, worship and play’ rise up from the Westminster school’s cramped central London site ‘like a glass mirage, a brightly lit spaceship’ (TES, 31/1/03). BDP architects’ new design was nominated for the 2002 Stirling Prize.

58 This technique was invented by the UNL students as a gestural device to explore the lines of movement of pupils through space in the school.

59 See School Works Tool Kit and http:// www. school-works. org. uk

60 Seymour, J., Cottam, H., Comely, G., Annesley, B. and Lingayah, S. (2001). School Works Tool Kit. London: School Works, p. 88.

61 Hartley-Brewer, J. (2002). Model school for the 21st Century. The Sunday Express, 22 January.

62 See Clark’s more in-depth interpretation of the US research in her (see note 49) Building Education. The role of the physical environment in enhancing teaching and research, pp. 7-8.

63 Independent consultants Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) were commissioned by the DfEE in 1999 to investigate the relationship between capital expenditure on school buildings and pupils attainment. Although to date still unpublished, as ‘the first major attempt in the UK to examine empirically the relationship between capital investment in schools and pupil performance’ the study, using PwC’s own set of indicators, found ‘some evi­dence of a positive and statistically significant relationship between capital investment and pupil performance’ (PwC 2001, cited in Clark, 2002, see note 49).

64 Largely thanks to SENJIT’s 1999 international literature review into research on school building design, enough material was gathered to give credence and impetus to the idea that student’s achievement could be linked to the quality of schools’ architecture.

65 Annesley, B., Horne, M. and Cottam, C. (2002). Learning Buildings. London: School Works, p. 45.

66 Seymour, J. et al. (2001), (see note 60).

67 School Works’ multi-disciplinary team included the architects, an educational psychologist, an educational policy researcher, an engineer, a construction manager and a performance artist.

68 OECD Programme on Educational Building. (1976). Teachers and School Buildings. Cited in Clark, H. (2002), p. 16, (see note 49).

69 DFES/QCA. (1999). Citizenship curriculum. London: DfES, p. 14.

70 School Works are currently developing their participatory process with the DfES, LEAs and Pringle Brandon Consulting.

71 In the 2003 secondary school national ‘League Tables’ published in January 2003, Ofsted recorded a 26-point improvement in 15-year – olds achieving 5 grades A*-C at Kingsdale: 27 points higher than one of Southwark’s wealthiest international fee-paying schools dur­ing the same period.

72 Annesley, Horne & Cottam. (2002), pp. 45-46, (see note 65).

73 Montessori, M. (1936). The Secret of Childhood. London: Longmans, Green and Co., p. 249.

74 School Works (2000). School Works: a secondary

school’s design initiative. London: The

Architecture Foundation, p. 6.

75 Rouse, J., CABE Chief Exec. quoted by N. Pyke (2002) in Cardboard in a class of its own. The Independent, 29 August, p. 2.

76 Gandini, L. (2000). The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach, Advanced Reflections. Greenwich, CT and London: Ablex Publishing Corp., pp. 166.


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Ben Koralek is founding Director of shape; the built environment and architecture centre in the East of England region. Since 1996, he has been designing and delivering built environment education programmes and workshops for children and young people in schools, colleges, museums and architecture centres in London, Cambridge and throughout the UK.

Before establishing shape, Ben was Head of Projects at ‘School Works’, the award-winning DfES-sponsored initiative focused on improving the architectural design and educational performance of secondary schools buildings through a participatory design process.

Maurice Mitchell was trained at the Architectural Association London. He has been a partner in Dwyer Mitchell Architects since 1988 and now runs a Diploma Studio at the Department of Architecture and Spatial Design, London Metroplitan University. He also teaches at Oxford Brookes University and the Centre for Alternative Technology. He is the author of Rebuilding Community in Kosovo (2003) and The Lemonade Stand: Exploring the Unfamiliar by Building Large Scale Models (1998).

Updated: October 7, 2015 — 3:19 pm