Schools are places where students spend a large part of their day, thus creating a pleasant and engaging environment is important for fostering students’ learning and development.
The way we create our educational spaces has the power to transform teaching methods and inspire young people to reach their potential. Indeed, a 2015 study conducted by the University of Salford found that well-designed classrooms can boost learning progress in primary school pupils by up to 16% in a single year.
Having worked with a large number of schools, we have seen this in practice and understand how architecture can aid the educational process. Our experience spans public and private schools, with projects varying from classroom builds and refurbishments to creative arts facilities, ecological habitats and more.
Over the years, our architectural team’s portfolio of experience has taught us some of the most vital considerations when it comes to contemporary school design. Let’s explore them.
With the need to collectively reduce our carbon emissions growing more urgent every day, sustainability is central to architectural design projects today. The Department for Education (DfE) recently introduced a requirement for new buildings to achieve net zero carbon in operation, making this just as important for schools.
Our work on By Brook Primary School was heavily focused on embedding a sustainable ethos within all aspects of the design, helping pupils to appreciate principles of sustainability. The building sought to use recycled materials such as plastic decking formed from plastic drinks bottles and is clad in sustainably sourced larch.
The internal spaces are naturally daylit and ventilated with clerestory windows and a passive ventilation strategy, with absence detection technology and underfloor heating contributing to its efficient running.
With the rate of technological change ever increasing, school design must keep up and evolve with it, to allow teachers to make effective use of modern technology. From screens and interactive white boards to projectors and sound systems, modern technologies can go a long way in making building designs flexible, allowing educational spaces to fulfil their purpose long-term.
The aforementioned 2015 study found natural light, temperature, air quality, colour and individualised classroom design to be some of the biggest physical factors impacting on pupils’ learning progress. These factors can be intentionally designed for and controlled during the design process, enabling us as architects to provide effective, project-specific solutions. As a result, we can ensure that the buildings we design are of the highest possible benefit to end users, optimising their experience every school day.
Our architectural and interior design work on Bristol’s Snapdragons Nursery was highly focused on sustainability and creating the right internal environment. The building is incredibly light and airy with tall central corridor spaces that promote natural ventilation and flood the building with light.
Connection to nature
Research has found there to be many benefits from learning outdoors, with a 2017 study in Frontiers in Psychology highlighting outdoor education leading to more intrinsic motivation to learn. Outdoor educational environments can be designed to cater for a wide range of purposes, from play and group work to instruction and presentations, providing a fresh perspective for students who spend most of the school day inside.
Enhancing connection with the outdoor environment was central to our project at By Brook Primary School, which included provision of an outdoor teaching area, surrounded by a newly formed outdoor wildlife habitat, creating an immersive learning environment for pupils.
Elsewhere, at Redmaids’ Junior School part of our role as architects involved collaborating with the school and play equipment provider to design various outdoor spaces for play, climbing, performance and relaxation. Our work also encompassed a new ground floor classroom with direct access to a new playground space via wooden steps which could be used for seating and performances.
With every school being unique, we love looking for innovative ways to optimise existing space and create new, multi-functional spaces. Where corridors were once plain and narrow, they are nowadays designed as wider, open spaces which also serve as social and educational areas. Where libraries were once single use, we now see their potential to be utilised as study areas, media centres and theatres.
In our capacity as project managers and surveyors on the £4m redevelopment of Redland Hall at Redmaids’ High School, we oversaw this building’s transformation into a multi-functional space for music, drama, assemblies and external functions and concerts.
Another principle we consider important is architectural transparency, the idea of visual interconnectedness. Increasingly, schools are seeking to organise spaces in a way that allows interaction and collaboration, offering more opportunities for education and building a greater sense of community.
We incorporated this principle into our work on Corsham Primary School by designing a large central space with a floor-to-ceiling glass partition, as well as collaborative, open plan layouts in various educational projects.
The future is exciting for educational architecture. With the needs and requirements of schools evolving and expanding, we, as architects, see new opportunities to adapt and come up with innovative solutions to meet these needs.
We find it extremely rewarding to work with clients who align with our innovative and sustainable approach to design and promotion of pupil and staff engagement. If your school requires the expertise of a talented team of architects, project managers and surveyors, please get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.