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Schools must embrace the space for something special

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There is often an assumption in the brief that 'good architecture'can help to improve education by providing a more stimulating environment. Environment is undoubtedly important but it is not the only way that architects can help.

We are not only architects but parents, observers, holidaymakers, commuters et al. On top of which, some of us work in a very broad band of businesses, people and problems. We are therefore in a very good position to contribute to the issues surrounding education and assist in imagining a future beyond the physical re-examination of the fabric of a building.

I suspect, however, that any teacher, parent or student would be extremely excited at the prospect of a large empty warehouse that would give more space but, more importantly, allow each group to invent their own learning environment.

As a base proposition this would allow the commissioning of schools to break out of the straightjacket of expressing need in terms of square metres per pupil. Space is always at a premium and it would be very revealing to look at the use of the large industrial shed as a container for exploration.

The idea of a 'test bed' school would be very useful, as it is often the case that the written brief can only be achieved by forming an abstraction based on known practices and procedures. It could be appropriate to learn by doing, and in this case a large factory would be ideal as a means of observing a school community trying to make sense of a large space. To be able to observe the creation of spaces, nests and privacy by different groups of people would be highly instructive and useful, exploring what a school might need instead of trying to imagine it.

Schools need to develop a sense of belonging to the communities they exist in.

At present they are very often a set of buildings surrounded by a fence.They are separated from the world in a very similar way to prisons. One possibility or model for a school would be the street - a public place that not only contains the school but other aspects of everyday life. There could be a link between 'earning and learning'- new models of the supermarket, a department store of learning, a local youth parliament, gallery of artwork, music department as mini concert venue, cafes, bars, news-stands, school TV, cinema/film club, and spaces for making lots of noise (clubbing), etc. This model for the school could also be part of a mixed development, with living spaces and workspaces from which revenue or capital could be put back into the school.

Some schools could be explored which relate to larger areas or regions. For example, the 15.4 million people who live in the M62 corridor could easily support a series of centres of excellence spread along the motorway. New or existing service areas could become the sites to act as the focuses for sport, science, agriculture, culture, etc, all linked by a fleet of school buses that in themselves could be used as seminar rooms in the many towns and villages in the area.The centres of excellence would also offer much-needed facilities to the local communities in the region.

The relatively public nature of this infrastructural school contributes to the region by example. The opportunity for the architect to consider environments for learning is a wonderful one, but the initial tools of envisioning should not be constrained by a limited brief based on convention.

Architects are well placed to imagine the unimaginable, to dream the impossible and think the unthinkable.

We wish to join the wider debate.

WA, from Studio 3, Parkgate Road, London

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