David Medd, one of the leading school architects in post-war Britain, died on 7 April 2009, aged 91
As a specialist in prefabricated building systems he formed a formidable partnership with his wife Mary, an architect and educationalist, designing child-centred learning environments. They were part of a group of young architects which created groundbreaking schools for Hertfordshire County Council just after the war.
Medd studied at the Architectural Association from 1938. As a student he travelled in Sweden and Finland, where he met such greats as Gunnar Asplund, Sven Markelius and Alvar Aalto. This influenced his designs in terms of light, ventilation and the creation of classroom spaces connected with their grassy, wooded environments.
After qualifying in 1941, Medd joined the wartime Camouflage Development and Training Centre in Farnham, where he designed lightweight, demountable, camouflaged buildings that could be swiftly put together from a kit of components. This experience did much to inform his later methodology.
In 1946 he joined Hertfordshire County Council, where an ambitious school building programme was planned, despite a severe shortage of money, materials and trades. Prefabrication emerged as the solution and Medd was instrumental in adapting the clunky prefab building systems that prevailed at the time. His prototype schools consisted of prefabricated concrete panels with no internal columns, forming flexible classroom spaces on 8ft 3in grids that could be adapted to the contours of any site. Classrooms were linked by glass clerestories to bring natural light into the space and offset the cellular feel.
Medd (pictured in 1949)also developed warmer colours to lighten and brighten the classroom and designed chairs and tables for children. Experimental projects such as the now Grade II-listed Burleigh School in Cheshunt and Little Green Junior School, Croxley Heath, were praised for being spacious, light, flexible, colourful and configured in neat geometrical order. The government took note and in 1949 the Medds joined a newly formed research and development unit at the Ministry of Education and Science that also built prototype schools.
Projects included a village school at Finmere in Oxfordshire, completed in 1960 for just £10,000. The classrooms had sliding partitions that could be opened up into larger areas.
At the ground-hugging Eveline Lowe Primary School in Southwark, South London, completed in 1966, there were areas for ‘messy activities’ such as modelling with clay.
Medd’s prefab grid system was later stacked four storeys high to build some of the first secondary modern schools.