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Masterminding a strategy for schools

Dominic Cullinan Architects has been working with senjit on Makeover at Schools (M@S), a long-term study which aims to transform the way our secondary schools are designed, altered and maintained.

The initiative draws on information gleaned from visits to various London schools to establish the relationship between the built environment and the well-being of the school community. Its findings show that the procurement process for building works is flawed, in that it produces solutions only to specific immediate problems - piecemeal development has a tendency to undermine the integrity of the original design, often ruining existing circulation patterns and views, and creating spaces which are useless or depressing. In addition, the procurement process excludes the majority of the school community and so is only partially informed. By talking to pupils and staff, M@S has identified a range of architectural moves, ranging from reorganisation to rebuilding, which could have a huge impact on the effectiveness of the building.

The Architecture Foundation is working with Dominic Cullinan Architects and M@S on plans to use one school as a prototype for the Provocative Project. Possible architectural changes, as well as proposed methods of consultation, procurement, tendering and supply will be exhibited to the public. Having established a working methodology, M@S hopes to encourage every secondary school to clarify its own client role by establishing an environmental development plan. By identifying a variety of desirable interventions, which could range in size from a basketball hoop to a sports hall, each school should be able to develop a flexible funding strategy whereby any identified sum of money, however small, can be allocated to a specific initiative. As well as being a useful tool for seeking funding, the plan should ensure that even short-term physical improvements are carried out in accordance with a co-ordinated long-term strategy.

New headteachers are often called in to 'turn the school around'. By relocating activities from the periphery to the centre of the building, the school is turned inside out. As spaces become more intensively used, there are more opportunities for confrontation - a physical manifestation of a school's desire to address rather than ignore any problems it may have.

The anonymous spaces which detach the school from its surroundings could be replaced with places which are intensively used by both community and school. These could be new buildings such as libraries or sports halls, or simply a reordering of what is already there. If properly managed and maintained, the school library or the existing sports field could become a valuable asset for the whole neighbourhood.

Schools built in the s1960s were generally conceived as clearly defined objects surrounded by an oasis of open space within an urban or suburban landscape. Ad hoc extensions over the years have eaten into the surrounding land, creating a disparate collection of outdoor spaces which often remain barren, and a sprawling collection of buildings with boundaries which are increasingly ill-defined. M@S suggests that schools should consider rationalising their property holdings, firstly by selling off pieces of land which are under used, and secondly by reorganising what remains.

The Architecture Foundation is seeking government funding for some aspects of the project, and is co-ordinating a pamphlet which will be sent to all secondary schools and leas. senjit is the Special Educational Needs Joint Initiative for Training and is part of the Institute of Education.

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