The studio programme had been set up so students had a range of different opportunities to develop their own individual design programme. They were asked to generate a strategic brief from the general literature on board schools, talks with school staff, a measured survey of their particular school and their own personal response to their individual site. They were also challenged to adopt some of the fragmentary and often fantastical pupil-generated ideas, using the design process as a line of enquiry into their project.
Most of the students found it easier to respond to the explicit agenda coming from teachers and school governors rather than creatively interpreting the fantasies generated by the pupils. The discussion below is restricted to those ideas that emerged from dialogue with the pupils and used by students in developing their proposals. These included ways of moving rapidly around, and particularly up and down the school, and the provision of small ‘retreat’ spaces or pods.
Rapid vertical movement Pupils’ imagination was stirred by the possibility of some type of automated mass transit system to move pupils (and rubbish) vertically up and down the school facades. This was to be a fast, visible and indeed thrilling experience akin to a roller-coaster ride.
Matthieu Tisserand proposed a dramatic full height glass screen stretching across, and several metres in front of the already impressive southern facade of New End school. Most of the old wall was removed to reveal and unite a layer of spaces sandwiched between the northern row of classrooms and the new glazed wall. These were the new spaces – light, open and brightly coloured. They were punctured by stair towers and toilet blocks but combined by their shared southern aspect.
Lifts and escalators begin to meet the pupils’ desire for rapid, expressive and ‘fun’ transit facilities: a traveller’s progress being visible from the south through the facade. Previously, time was represented by the lazy, subtle, seasonal play of sunlight on red brick. Now the contrast was between conditions of bright daylight when interiors receded and the dark winter afternoons when artificial lighting would display the school like a doll’s house.
Once available, this ability to display itself needed to be managed. So the southern screen was engineered to project messages, timetables and images to inform itself and the local community of current programmes.
Amongst the pupils there was a clear awareness of the potential for relaxation provided by reformulating the idea of school toilets into bath and chat rooms. This was just one type of retreat (bubble, pod, soft) space which emerged from the ‘Designing for Real’ (D4R) (sic. footnote 30) exercises which variously provided for especially focused study, protection, observation, relaxation and an opportunity for intimate control over a pupil’s immediate environment.
Steven Van Der Heijden found teachers and pupils at New End particularly enthusiastic about developing an idea for a space that would be an adjunct to the classroom called the ‘softspace’. Class 5J’s teacher at New End explained that rather than tables and chairs there would be ‘soft cushions for circle time, group games or class discussions. I have often had classroom assistants coming in, assisting in teaching small groups of
the class, and I have to arrange some tables for them in the corridor. At the moment it is impossible for me to monitor these and other activities outside the classroom. The additional “softspace” could maintain a mini-library, resources and reading station with headphones, computer and display wall’.
Van Der Heijden chose to hang extra space on to the outside of the existing building. His ‘softspace blobs’ projected from the north facing wall of classrooms and were supported on a steel framework, filling the space between the building and the northern boundary of the site. This framework also accommodated a new entrance on the ground floor. Penetrating both the old school and new steel frame was a new enlarged whale-like hall.
A series of drawings tested the proposed ‘softspace’ and its relationship with the classroom. Comments from 5J’s class teacher on the detailed proposals led to further changes. Pupils responded well, imagining the ‘softspace’ as a refuge or a secret panopticon and incorporating these ideas into their own drawings. Emily, aged 10, said that a bubble room was a sort of extension to the school and it had ‘a door, then a tunnel to a classroom or hall. In the bubble room there is a comfy area. There is also a nice tea and coffee place, a wonderful art area and a bath or shower.’
Gabriel, aged nine, said that:‘you could have a big pole which goes out of the school with a bubble at the top. So that instead of going round Hampstead, we could just go up some stairs to the bubble at the top to see.’
With a strong design idea and extensive involvement with the D4R exercises, Van Der Heijden was able to unlock the creative contribution of pupils and teachers and enrich and articulate the design of an important fragment of his scheme.