Putting the ‘wow’ into school design


n our first feature focus look at school maintenance and design this month, we

speak to Stuart Eatock, Managing Director at ECE Architecture, who explains the thinking behind his practice’s approach to good school design.

At ECE we have specialised in good school design for many years, maintaining a design department with considerable expertise, led by myself. As the national regimes have passed through, and school design fashions come and go, it has become clear that there are very few design components which

always emerge at the core of an excellent school project. The interesting fact is that these core design components do not necessarily need to be added to your cost planning, further stretching the budget, which always seems to be under stress. They simply need to be built into the project thinking from the start. To be sure that the project thinking is properly

invested, we are very careful to explore our ideas with the school users, whether this is the headteacher, senior staff, governors or pupils. Very early engagement with those who might be affected by the project is arranged and a conversation, which runs throughout the project, is started. This conversation is usually most stimulating and often continues for some time after the building is completed, becoming a central thread, around which the work of design, development and construction is woven. On many occasions we find we are working

with a school where much of the existing fabric is expected to be retained. We fully support this sustainable approach to the process of improving the teaching environment. We believe that retaining as much of the original school as is sensible is no impediment to the delivery of an outstanding ‘new’ educational environment; in fact quite often the retention of elements of the past can assist with the passing-on of a school culture that is only too difficult to initiate with a completely new institution. This considered recycling of the existing is an element of good school design that is all too easily disregarded in the face of the new. We consider that you should be fully aware of what you have and what it is worth before investing heavily in replacement.

Richmond School

Dramatic intervention But every school needs a ‘wow’. In this way the school day can be memorable. The prospect of going to school can be recognised by a quickening of the step. The afterimage of the school can linger in the mind as a place of


learning that was enjoyed and a destination to be anticipated for the next day. We have found that the ‘wow’ element by no

means has to be a feature of great expenditure and can often be achieved by juxtaposing two or more principal design elements which would not normally have been experienced together. The ‘wow’ element almost always involves

managing the sensations of those who use the school to render the experience higher than might be anticipated. For instance, the designing of one space with a particular primary function, to have a secondary view to something completely different - either within the school to something else outside – and in so doing greatly increase the dimensionality of the experience. ECE Architecture has delivered this ‘wow’

effect in two large new schools recently by planning the dining space to be right at the centre of the multi-level school circulation space and so create a striking hub for the school, which amalgamates several key school activities simultaneously while at the same time being drenched in daylight from the glazed roof above. This space is truly dramatic and has been realised simply through imaginative design.

Blurred space Related to our example of ‘wow’ space is our concept of ‘blurred’ space in a school. As with all living organisms, the arterial system plays a key role in the success of the whole. Thus, in school design, we aim to elevate corridors and circulation spaces from the humble and humdrum to the same level of critical important as the body’s circulation system. The success of a school depends not only on the teaching and learning patterns but also on the relationships made and the friendships forged. These products of social intercourse can make the school-time experience, raising the whole process of education to a higher level. It seems self-evident to us that well-designed

June 2019

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