Architects need to provide ‘agile’ designs for schools that can respond to rapid changes in information and communication technology
‘The extreme scenario in future-proofing design for schools would be for ICT (information and communication technology) to make the entire school redundant,’ says Lloyd Stratton, a director of architecture practice ACP (Architects Co-Partnership).
Stratton has worked on school projects in collaboration with education and ICT consultant Ramesys, and considers this a distinct possibly in the case of pupils over the age of 13 for a proportion of their time. He observes that ‘without a large building to pay for and maintain, many more teachers could be afforded to teach small, manageable groups of pupils on location, i.e. in museums’.
Given the uncertainty about the future of ICT, there is widespread demand for ‘agile design’, which will enable schools to continue operating effectively and efficiently. Stratton identifies three types of flexibility: ‘Short term, which provides for the future we think we know; medium term, which provides for the future we can guess at; and long-term, which provides for the future we don’t know.’
This involves good adjacencies, effective space organisation, a range of learning space sizes and strategically positioned sliding acoustic partitions. Architects must predict the layouts that different education scenarios need and formulate strategies for positioning facilities for power, data, printing and the secure storage and recharging of devices.
This makes it easier to remove and reconfigure strategic internal walls by keeping them clear of services and fixed furniture. The choice of structural frame and flexible strategies for fire, services, furniture and facilities management also facilitate change. This needs to be managed to coincide with the ICT refreshment frequency, so that developments in technology can be fully exploited. Life cycles are currently driven by affordability, rather than technical advances or changing pedagogy. Although ICT would ideally be refreshed at the same time as the furniture it is integrated with, in reality, a desk’s design life is around 15 years, compared to 25 years for an electrical installation. ICT refreshments every five years are likely to involve significant advances in technology, with enormous potential for redundancy and incompatibility.
Typically, a school’s structural frame allows all internal partitions to be non-loadbearing, so that they can be removed or economically relocated, and the planning grid provides for a range of different room sizes, which are coordinated with the windows. Also, school plans are able to expand and contract to accommodate changes in student numbers. These major works should coincide with the ICT refresh frequency.
According to Stratton, we are moving from ‘teacher-centric’ to personalised ‘pupil-centric’ education, which is more stimulating and strengthens motivation. Steve Smith, director of learning at Ramesys, notes that devices are becoming increasingly personalised and mobile and that more specialist accessories are available, which encourage learners to act as contributors and decision makers, rather than passive consumers of knowledge.
While ACP aims to respond to each school’s individual learning vision, Stratton maintains that certain key aspects of ICT provision have almost universal relevance:
• an ICT device for each pupil;
• wireless connectivity throughout the school and its grounds;
• interactive white boards in most learning spaces;
• periodic device access to hard-wired data and power for heavy-duty work;
• access to specialist heavy-duty ICT devices;
• shared printing facilities in open-plan flexible heart spaces;
• ICT and furniture that facilitate various pedagogies.
Smith affirms that ‘some aspects of the solution are bound to be standardised - and this is to everyone’s advantage. We typically propose a central server farm that delivers
universal services such as identity management, security, back-up and e-mail.’ This provides resilience, availability, economies of scale and security.
The heat generated by equipment presents a key challenge. If every child has their own device, to be used at any time, then a typical learning space might contain anything
up to 40 devices, including an interactive white board, printers and other pieces of digital equipment. DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families) guidelines recommend natural ventilation in learning spaces, which disperses much of the heat that the devices generate. However, with mechanical ventilation, exhaust air can be drawn through a heat recovery system. Also, as Stratton explains, a typical learning space with single-sided natural ventilation cannot provide a comfortable temperature in the summer if there are more than 10 devices in use, but full mechanical ventilation can. Nevertheless, Smith adds, it is difficult to provide for these large variations in power demand and heat output, although devices’ power consumption and heat generation are falling significantly in response to manufacturers’ research and development priorities.
When asked about the disadvantages of ICT in education, Stratton’s response is that ‘this is a question for an educationalist, not an architect’. He observes that ICT has not realised its full potential for the reason that many teachers lack the necessary training or flexibility of approach, and that pupils should be encouraged to use software that is part of an integrated dynamic learning programme, tailored to their stage, ability and needs. Ramesys’ Smith notes: ‘Part of our work involves transformation using ICT. This entails supporting schools on the journey from the current teacher-led service to a more learner-led, anytime-anywhere model.’
Exemplar 1: A future‐proof plan, Thomas Clarkson Community College, Cambridgeshire
Working to RIBA Stage D, ACP and Ramesys developed integrated ICT proposals with a multi‐purpose heart space that is sufficiently flexible to host various pedagogies. The red walls shown on the plan are free from services and fixed furniture so they can be easily removed to allow some or all of the learning space to be absorbed into the heart space. The positions of the power and data floor boxes allow alternative furniture layouts. Dashed lines indicate potential expansion. Architect Make is currently working on this project.
Client Inspired Spaces and Carillion, for Cambridgeshire County Council
Scheme design 2009
Gross internal floor area 16,150 sq m (largely new build)
Cost £38 million (BSF/PFI)
Exemplar 2: Maintenance and storage of digital devices, Bishops Park College, Clacton
Bishops Park College has three learning communities, which each have a dedicated team of teachers and assistants working with a designated body of 300 students in a discrete suite of rooms. The college is organised around a well‐lit atrium that acts as a performance arena, assembly space, dining area and social centre. The three schools lead from this space into their own double‐volume atria. In these spaces, each student has their own secure card‐access locker, incorporating charging points.
Safe Charge Lockers (below), manufactured by Helmsman, have traditional or electronic locks and can be operated with a swipe card that integrates with most access‐control and e‐purse systems. This allows the same card that opens the locker to be used for cashless dining, access through different levels of security throughout the school and borrowing library books. ACP specified a timber‐faced module at Bishops Park.
Client QED Wates, for Essex County Council
Gross internal area 8,640 sq m (new build)
Cost £18 million (PFI)