Watch our webinar on the future of school design with speakers Jonathan Hines of Architype, Dianna Fletcher of ADP Architecture and Hugh Gatenby of ArcEd, which is part of a series of talks hosted with Schüco.

There have been two lessons from last year’s sporadic school attendance. One is how difficult it is in most cases to educate children away from school; the other is that this has been a time for radical thought. If education resumes exactly the way it was before the pandemic, opportunities will have been lost. The three speakers at an AT webinar, supported by Schueco UK, have very different approaches, but all want to see change. They addressed the topic ‘Beyond the Classroom – keeping children engaged, healthy and safe’ from different but equally challenging viewpoints.

Dianna Fletcher, studio director at ADP Architecture, explained her practice’s approach to designing for mental well-being. ADP has developed a metric for measuring its work against the ‘five ways to well-being,’ defined by the New Economics Foundation in 2008. “These are,” Fletcher said, “useful anchors for a more complex set of definitions.”

What ADP has done is redefined these factors in terms of what design can provide. So ‘connect’, one of the five ways, becomes ‘places to connect’. The other four become ‘design spaces that encourage activity’, ‘things to take notice of’, ‘designing spaces for learning,’ and, ‘creating an environment for altruistic behaviour’.

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Speakers from left to right: Jonathan Hines, Dianna Fletcher and Hugh Gatenby

On each project, the practice then looked at how it could achieve these aims through a number of design factors: light and sunlight; comfort; control; nature and biophilia; aesthetics; layout; sustainability; safety; and accessibility. So, for example, in terms of encouraging activity, which Fletcher said meant activity outside programmed exercise, the design would create attractive circulation routes and staircases, providing interesting views and, in some cases, decorated with art works. It would provide space for exercise, cycle storage, nature trails, wildlife routes and play decks.

Alongside all this, the practice has developed a toolkit for measuring the impact of its work. It is called SBE Toolkit, for ‘sustainability, belonging, engagement’. Fletcher said, “We will use it at feasibility, planning, construction and post-occupancy. We will be able to build up metrics, especially once we can go back and do post-occupancy evaluation.”

We need to move from a factory model of learning to more personalisation”

Hugh Gatenby, founder of ArcEd, talked about his vision of education as people-centric and technology enhanced. He believes that technology should be used in a very different way from the isolation and limitations of home lessons on Zoom. Instead, he wants to see schools as places that will allow physical connection, but also allow groups to form of those with similar approaches to learning, even if they are in different physical environments.

The idea is, Gatenby said, to create class groups based on their competencies and approaches, rather than mere proximity. “We need to move from a factory model of learning to more personalisation.” The teacher leading a group that is studying together could be in any one of a number of schools. Much of the technology to allow this to happen is, Gatenby argued, already available.

He also examined the physical form of schools. Schools of the future, he believes, may follow the ‘cytoplasm matrix of social space’. Architects should learn lessons from co-working and its spatial configurations, he argued. One way forward may be to use 3D printing to create organic, articulated forms with discrete areas in which small groups can study. Experiments in Italy with printing of earth rather than concrete are promising, he said.

By focusing on comfort and well-being, we can minimise the risk of infection without compromising”

The final speaker was Jonathan Hines, managing director of Architype. A pioneer of the Passivhaus approach, Hines’ practice has extended its use from houses to schools. He explained that not only will a Passivhaus school use less energy and be more comfortable than one using more conventional construction; it will also minimise dissemination of Covid-19 and other viruses.

Hines compared figures for CO2 concentrations in air for Passivhaus schools and those built using more conventional means. Only the Passivhaus schools consistently stayed at the desired level of below 1000ppm at all times. This is important because a low CO2 level is an indication of how good the ventilation is. Stagnant air, with higher concentrations of CO2, allows virus-laden particles to hang around.

Hines also talked about the cost of Passivhaus design. While many people design for a cost uplift of 5 per cent, it is perfectly possible to stick to a ‘standard price’. While there are additional costs for insulation, windows and achieving airtightness, there are savings on the heating system, on a rationalised building form and through a reduced need for renewables.

“In the past,” Hines said, “buildings were simple but energy consuming, uncomfortable and unsustainable. In the present, they are complex, carbon offsetting, uncomfortable and unsustainable. Passivhaus, however, is simple, energy saving, comfortable and sustainable.” He finished his presentation by saying, “By focusing on comfort and well-being, we can minimise the risk of infection without compromising.” If we can now have healthy and thoughtfully designed schools, the past year may have brought some value to education.