Twenty-seven of the recent UK Government’s ‘classrooms of the future’ pilot projects are now complete. Prue Chiles reflects on this important Government initiative as one of four architects building classrooms in the Sheffield area. She explains how she responded to the challenge of designing a ‘classroom of the future’, combining extensive consultation with the users, particularly the children, with the usual restrictions of a tight budget and safety concerns. She was keen to hear what children had to say, and to act on their advice. Her views on this process are particularly interesting viewed in the context of the constant presence of teachers, who often tried to influence and interpret the opinions of the children.
There is a clear philosophical view on the difficult subject of ‘the future’ and all that implies. During the twentieth century, the future was viewed as being unequivocally about the liberating effects of science and technology on our lives. Today, we are less sure about this, as the exploitation of the planet is becoming much more apparent. The concept she grapples with here is balancing technology with issues of accountability to the wider environment. She brings in the concept of nature as a civilizing counter weight, and uses the external areas around her new building to encourage more interaction.
The relationship built up with the school after a three-year relationship with its staff and pupils is one which enables the architects themselves to learn. Ballifield Primary School is used as a test bed to explore both the school childrens’, teachers’ and the architect’s attitudes to what a classroom of the future should be and to describe how these aspirations were transformed in the final built project. What is most gratifying is to hear about the mistakes and problems which the architects confess to; this is no egotistical vanity building, it is a flawed piece of work, with compromises which mean some aspects of its technology work, and some do not. Her honest self-reflective approach is unusual, and lends weight to the need to view these projects as evolving processes, which must be able to adapt and change to the needs of the users. As architects, we can learn a lot from this process.