What is the value of a school building? It depends on the purpose

British journalist and free-schooler Toby Young has been speaking out against large scale school construction projects. The online building design magazine, Bdonline, captured a classic moment of extreme educational discourse obscuring reality when they reported on a meeting about school design that Young, a journalist, took part in:

Young repeated earlier claims that the design of school buildings did not make any difference to a child’s ability to pass exams, and accused architects of being arrogant in saying they did. “How do you know buildings have this impact? It is extraordinarily arrogant. Architects are clever people. Why not design a building that is a bit more flexible?”

Keith Bradley, a senior partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, which organised last night’s discussion, accused Young of “talking rubbish” and added: “Do you want to leave it to Tesco? Do we have children educated in a B&Q shed?”

Young is primarily attacking the massive British investment in school construction under the Building Schools of the Future Program (BSF). I have written in the past about physical school design and the connection between physical space and learning. However, the importance of space does not, in my opinion equate to large buildings and big costs.

School buildings should be structured based on school purposes–one of which, we might assume, is to promote interest in and engagement with learning. A community school which houses community organizations, like the one we at the REAL Schools are hoping to build, is most likely going to take some major investments and large-scale creative design. However, a great deal can be done with found space or unusual building types.

Here are two contrary examples: 1) some striking places of learning designed purposefully by Nightingale Associates; 2) the Parkway school (my advisor, Dr. James H. Lytle was the principal in the 70s).


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