A lesson in how to build the visionary school of the future
There is a plethora of initiatives dealing with the issues of schools and education.Those of a more architectural nature tend to assume that a well-designed, cost-effective edifice will result in a better environment, which will inevitably lead to a happier school community - in turn reflected in academic achievement. I would not disagree with any of that, but when it comes to titles such as the 'School of the Future', the architect must extend the opportunity to fundamentally explore the nature of education, its relationship with the community it serves, creativity, longevity and feasibility, as well as the aesthetics and look of the edifice.
The new school should first consider the behaviour it contains.Within the traditional model there exists one group of people who discharge knowledge to another group, members of which are deemed ignorant.The new school should promote an idea of a voyage of discovery, which would itself encourage the idea of a test bed where things can be tried out and mistakes made.
The rooms in a school should not bear the names of spaces that we know. 'Classroom' carries a satchel full of cultural assumptions, which tend to prescribe an expected behaviour. It conjures up the image of a oneway exchange of information that maintains a dire vision of what school is and, in many, a deep hatred of these 'prisons' for learning.
'Assembly hall' is another off-putting title.
The spaces in our new schools should be related to behaviour and, as such, represent a library of opportunities that do not preclude existing activities, alongside many new ones that we have not yet thought about.
There should be tough rooms, light rooms, wet rooms, large rooms, small rooms, quiet rooms and loud rooms.The term 'playground' should be changed to suit an area of exploration, with wetland and climatically variant sites for the study of different vegetation.There should be areas for growing food and running trials in methods of doing so; areas laid out to promote ball games that have yet to be invented; a BBQ and places for alternative lunch and supper preparation.The schools should have shops where products that are designed and made could be sold, and performance areas for evening and weekend productions.Commerce would be encouraged through a range of entrepreneurial ventures, and areas for simply doing nothing would be scattered throughout.
Ideally, the school would be integrated into the centre of the town and not necessarily confined to one site.There is a lot of merit in considering a school as a route.The pupils would spend time contributing to the life of the community as they promenade from one area to another.The whole perception must be of a place with no boundaries that does not simply operate from 8:30am to 4:30pm. It must become a destination for those who are not attending the education programme.The route could be conceived as a film set, promoting productions to feed the school's local TV channel.The school newspaper could be the local newspaper - and so on.
What I am describing, of course, is a place that is a microcosm of everyday life, not a place apart.The young citizens would not feel as though they were on the wrong side of the watershed, prior to some mysterious rite of passage that passes them into adulthood.
They must assume responsibilities at an early age and yet have time to play and act their age.They must feel that they belong.
Above all, the building(s) must be beautiful and engaging, full of experiences and rich with art.The utilitarian is not good enough.