Evelyn Grace Academy by Zaha Hadid Architects

UK government bans curved school buildings

News: there will be no curved or glass walls on any new school buildings constructed in the UK, thanks to a set of government guidelines released this week.

Evelyn Grace Academy by Zaha Hadid Architects

Above and top: Evelyn Grace Academy by Zaha Hadid Architects - photos by Luke Hayes

As part of a bid to standardise school design and cut costs, the 'baseline' templates place restrictions on room sizes, storey heights and building shapes for 261 replacement school buildings planned across the country.

The reports call for "simple, orthogonal forms" with "no curves or ‘faceted’ curves" and having "minimal indents, ‘dog legs’ and notches in the plan shapes". They also state that buildings should have "no glazed curtain walling or ETFE roofs".

The Langley Academy by Foster + Partners

Above: The Langley Academy by Foster + Partners - photo by Nigel Young

These restrictions will put an end to designs such as the curved timber Langley Academy by Foster + Partners (above) and Zaha Hadid's zig-zagging steel and glass Evelyn Grace Academy (top), which was awarded the Stirling Prize last year by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

These projects have been criticised for being too costly by education secretary Michael Gove, who in a conference last year said: "We won't be getting Richard Rogers to design your school, we won't be getting any award-winning architects to design it, because no one in this room is here to make architects richer."

Clapham Manor Primary School by dRMM

Above: Clapham Manor Primary School by dRMM - photo by Jonas Lencer

In response to the reports, the RIBA has raised its concerns, claiming that "the proposed ‘flat pack’ approach is inflexible and will deprive students and teachers of quality environments that are proven to support teaching and learning".

"In these times of austerity of course we need to cut our cloth on all spending, however the government’s proposals for the design and construction of future schools are far too restrictive with too much focus on short term savings," said RIBA president Angela Brady.

All Saints’ Academy by Nicholas Hare Architects

Above: All Saints’ Academy by Nicholas Hare Architects - photo by Hufton + Crow

Here's a press release from the RIBA listing its key concerns:

The RIBA five key concerns over the Governments approach to ‘Baseline Design’ are:

1. A failure to create functional spaces for excellent teaching

The RIBA is concerned that a ‘one size fits all’ approach will place a straitjacket on future generations of teaching professionals and quickly render these schools redundant in the light of developments in pedagogy and technology.

2. Not ensuring discipline and student wellbeing

The minimal circulation spaces have the potential for serious congestion, with the consequential impact on behaviour and wellbeing. The designs for secondary schools include narrow corridors and concealed stairs that are difficult to supervise; in many schools this is likely to result in the need for additional staff supervision to maintain good behaviour and avoid bullying. For example, in Guildford’s new Christ’s College school by DSDHA architects, the corridors were designed to eradicate bad behavior and isolation which was prevalent in the school’s previous 1960s building; the new circulation spaces are compact and easy to monitor; and since moving to its new building, Christ’s College has been named as one of the country’s most improved schools.

3. Ignoring the safeguarding of environmental comfort

The low energy environmental strategy is welcomed but the success of the layout is predicated on optimal conditions that may be difficult to achieve in reality. Relatively minor changes in orientation, internal finishes, or structural systems will significantly affect lighting, ventilation, heat gain and acoustics, which will in turn negatively impact on teaching and learning; eg well-ventilated and well-lit classrooms are crucial to aiding and extending student concentration.

4. Disregarding statutory requirements for accessibility and inclusion

The RIBA has serious reservations about the ability of the baseline designs to accommodate students and staff with disabilities and in general to meet statutory access requirements.

5. Not delivering long-term sustainability and value

The lack of engagement between sufficiently experienced design teams, educationalists and end users risks these minimum requirements being delivered without consideration of the particular needs of each school community. If the baseline designs are not developed appropriately to meet the teaching and operational needs of every school they may not be fit for purpose and therefore will not deliver the value for money solutions that the government intends.

While the RIBA continues to welcome the Government's objectives of achieving increased value for money and identifying ways to rationalize the complex process of design and construction, the Institute is calling on the following improvements to be made the 'Baseline Design' proposals:

» School designs are subjected to independent review by recognised local education practitioners and school leaders to establish their ability to support excellent teaching and meet future community needs.

» The development of the baseline designs take full account of the statutory requirements for access and the current guidance on designing for students and staff with physical impairments and other disabilities, including sensory and other ‘invisible’ impairments;

» The Environmental strategy be subjected to rigorous testing using a range of structural solutions and finishes;

» Designs are tested against a variety of ‘real life’ site situations in order to establish their viability before their final release;

» EFA clarifies which parts of the baseline design are intended to be indicative or recommended as opposed to mandatory;

» The output specification is developed in sufficient detail in order to safeguard functionality and prevent the erosion of design quality in the tender process;

» Clients and schools receive expert advice from qualified and experienced design professionals on the quality and functionality of any contractor’s proposals using the baseline design.