Can An Architect Not Be Trusted With A School?

28 Oct 2015

The results for the 2015 Stirling Prize for Architecture are out, and it is frankly no surprise that it has been scooped up by Burntwood School, near London. Designed by AHMM, it is a well deserved win, tying together existing 1950s structures with new pavilion-like buildings creating some extraordinary spaces. Don’t take my word for it; look up some pictures of it online.


I applaud this win, because it comes in a climate where the government is trying its best to reduce the input of architects in school design. The Priority School Building Programme brought in a few years ago is based on a very strange idea that schools can be designed using standardised templates. So there will be no designer studying the site constraints or the particular school’s requirements. Instead the school will be planned by putting together pre-approved blocks, not unlike a 9-year old putting together a Lego model. Bet Marty McFly didn’t see this coming when he crashed into 21 Oct 2015 in his silver sedan.






While scrolling through the photographs of the remarkable design, I started thinking of how the architecture of a school building can influence the pupils in their most formative years, irrespective of what Michael Gove thinks. My own all-girls school was a beautiful Victorian structure in the heart of Mumbai. It was built by the British in the 19th century and was a stunning

 red-brick structure with timber-framed lancet windows with the original timber shutters. I now know the correct architectural terms for its features, but even then I was aware of just how lucky we all were to be studying in a purpose-built building that was so beautiful.






In the eleven years I spent there, I did not take one single photograph of the classrooms, but I did take one of the school library. I loved it there. Look at the high ceilings! 



If there was one thing missing, it was that they did not have grounds big enough to hold the annual sports day, so we had to decamp for the day to the neighbouring all-boys school. Actually, wait a minute...that probably was the highlight of our year!




With studies showing that academic performance is influenced by the design of the classroom (link : I can only count myself lucky that my own school years were in classrooms bathed in natural light, with high ceilings and natural cross-ventilation. 







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