RIBA Awards have been handed to four schools - a building type that symbolises our highest valuess says Yeoryia Manolopoulou
The child has a hundred languages, a hundred hands, a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of thinking … A hundred worlds to invent, a hundred worlds to dream.’ This is how Loris Malaguzzi, teacher and founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, has described the endless capacities of children. In our society of institutionalisation, sternness, regulation, safety obsession and fear, where can children find this freedom to invent?
The Reggio Emilia approach developed in Northern Italy at a time of crisis after the Second World War with strong participation by the local community. Schools were permeable to their neighborhoods and their physical environment was considered ‘a third teacher’. There was tremendous openness and trust between the school and the public, street and neighborhood; something that is largely lost today. Our care about learning environments needs to expand to influence the making of the whole neighborhood, creating generous relationships between the school landscape and community. Aldo van Eyck spoke about the city being conceived as a large house, and the house as a small city. Perhaps something similar can be said about schools.
The school environment should be varied, full of wonder and curiosity. In Reggio Emilia settings there is the idea of a social ‘piazza’, a high degree of visibility between different parts, and ateliers for art. Outdoor qualities are brought in, and indoor qualities are brought out in a seamless relationship between interior and exterior. Plants are everywhere and the path of sunlight over the course of the day is enjoyed across all classrooms.
Well-proportioned and positioned classrooms, space for movement and social interaction, courtyards, trees, gardens and fresh air are qualities to seek. Moreover, schools that manifest their construction using good-quality materials demonstrate how things are made, how materials behave and feel. Colour variation is probably best enjoyed in the cast of light, sky, weather, children’s vibrant creations, and not in predetermined colorful pastiche. Particular and typical spaces can complement each other with certain parts being specific and other parts being much less prescribed to allow children to thrive in making their ‘hundred worlds’ - these are worlds to be made by the child, not the architect.
With the UK population rising steeply, we should invest in educational settings and think about how to best integrate them in the city. If educators, communities and government share a vision with architects for creating sustainable school buildings, these will not only inspire but endure and gain in quality over time. Pedagogies, priorities and economies change continuously, but the building remains and has a lasting influence over the land and people. No matter how education and government policies alter, the school is the public building that probably symbolises our highest values. It is our greatest challenge to give it the architecture it deserves.
Yeoryia Manolopoulou, founding partner, AY Architects
The Ritblat Building, Tonbridge by Hawkins\Brown
The architect has designed two classroom wings either side of a playground with a sunken canteen and assembly hall adjacent to the existing building. The classrooms benefit from external corridors so that the central play space is animated by children. The architect is to be congratulated on the delivery of a design and build project which has been astutely designed so as to not make unrealistic detail demands of the contractor. All the services have been cleverly arranged so as to not conflict with the cross-laminated timber frame structure.
Client - Alpha Plus Group
Contractor - AM Construction
Contract value - £4,100,000
Gross internal area - 1,473m²
Region - South East
Drapers Academy, Havering by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Drapers Academy is an accomplished piece of architecture. It has a very clear, rational plan which creates an unusual sense of calm, while also fulfilling the client’s brief in its curriculum organisation with open access to science and maths at the heart of the school. The building is exquisitely detailed and sits very elegantly within its own setting, with views to the wonderful surrounding landscape beyond. All-in-all this is a beautifully put together building.
Client - The Drapers’ Company, Queen Mary University London
Contractor - Kier Group
Contract value - £21,400,000
Gross internal area - 10,692m²
Region - London South
The Lee Building, Bath by Feilden Fowles with Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
This new sixth form building (top right) is intelligent, well planned and provides a popular place for sixth form students and a large events space for the whole school. Externally clad in sweet chestnut, the building creates a new face for the otherwise slightly sprawling school. It offers great, usable spaces that delight and is a good example of the type of buildings that schools should be commissioning.
Client - Bath and North East Somerset Council, and Ralph Allen School
Contractor - H Mealing & Sons
Contract value - £1,420,000
Gross internal area - Not available
Region - South West
Waverley School, Birmingham by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Waverley School shows that a bold design can be delivered at exceptional value and through government cuts. The design principles established from the outset have helped to retain quality. An organogram process led the design with a clear and rational arrangement of finger-like buildings leading from primary to sixth form; the first all-through school in the city. A rationalised palette of locally sourced materials and fine detailing has created an understated yet confident building.
Client - Lend Lease and Birmingham City Council
Contractor - Lend Lease
Contract value - £19,800,000
Gross internal area - 13,275m²
Region - West Midlands