Specification Magazine

January 2013

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16 EDUCATION Westminster Academy © Tim Soar, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris © Tim Soar, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Show and tell: the secret of good educational design Interview by Fiona McWilliam WHILE WELL-DESIGNED SCHOOLS CANNOT ALONE RAISE EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS, POORLY DESIGNED SCHOOLS CAN BE A BARRIER TO LEARNING AND TEACHING, ACCORDING TO ARCHITECT AND EDUCATION DESIGN CONSULTANT JENNIFER SINGER T he link between attainment and buildings goes one step further than physical environmental factors, as the relationship between learning outcomes and building environment is also aspirational and contextual. Research into the "intangibles" of school design suggest that the school building is an important symbol to a community, and that investment in a school building is motivating – it gives positive messages to students and often heralds associated "learning engagement activities". Investment into school facilities may also garner interest by parents – whose involvement in their child's school experience is invaluable. And classrooms are work environment as well as places for learning. Poor facilities affect staff morale, as well as that of students, and can have a deleterious effect on staff retention. © Tim Soar, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Providing a good environment for learning is about much more than just seeing a particular material specified. Rather, it's about using materials more intelligently – especially when budgets are tighter. For example, in BSF (the now defunct Building Schools for the Future programme), we saw the common use of render with a blue-brick base. But in certain parts of the country, where there is a lot of rain, such render often becomes quickly stained. Additionally, insulated render at ground floor For more information on Education visit www.specificationonline.co.uk level can be more easily vandalised than, say brick or un-rendered blocks. There is not one external material that should or should not be used in all schools – but the choices of materials should relate to the environment, they should be robust and easy for the school to maintain. Carefully used materials can contribute to a strong school identity. Westminster Academy, for example, designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, proves this. Five years since it opened, the use of boldly coloured cladding panels, "a reaction to the gritty quality of the area," still creates a distinctive, attractive and widely accessible presence. The local community, which was involved in the project from the outset, now has extensive access to both the school and its sports facilities. Attention to detail can make the difference between a building which looks institutional and one that has a strong connection with its students, visitors, parents and staff. When cost is tight – which it is increasingly – focusing on getting the basics right is essential. s

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