The Purposes and Functions of Schooling: some reasons governments give for building schools

Why do governments say they build schools? It’s not as simple as providing “education”.


Schools get built for many reasons. Accepting on face value that we build schools to provide buildings for schooling quickly becomes circular and banal. Instead, we can look at the reasons governments give for building schools to understand something of what schools do. This isn’t perfect as I discuss below, but it is useful to illustrate firstly the wide range of motivations cited and secondly how enmeshed schools are in our lives – with the economy, urban planning, political control, social justice and so on.


Education Reform

New Zealand: Following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, schools were built not merely as replacements but to ‘reshape education’ (Ministry of Education, cited in Benade, 2017:105).

England: The Building Schools for the Future programme was a means to ‘transform the way secondary schools function’ (Department for Children, Schools and Families et al., 2008:5).


Political Opportunities and History-Building

These tend to be less explicit since it is in governments’ interests to emphasise social, educational, cultural etc reasons for building schools and elide self-interest.

England: In respect of BSF – ‘The Victorians bequeathed a visible inheritance of their commitment to education. It is now time – indeed, the time is long overdue – for us to start the systematic renewal of all schools, so that our legacy to future generations is at least as great (Department for Education, 2003:5).


Social / Aesthetic Justice

Rome, Italy: A competition held over 2004/5 for three new schools in Rome was prefaced by the (then) Mayor, Walter Veltroni, arguing for schools as a means to bring ‘great architecture’ (cited in Capanna, 2005:73) to the neglected suburbs Continue reading “The Purposes and Functions of Schooling: some reasons governments give for building schools”

Interview with Herman Hertzberger (2017): architecture as visual and social connection

An Interview with Herman Hertzberger from May 2017 about Architecture’s Role in Providing Visual and Social Connections

Our second interview with the architect Herman Hertzberger – the first from 2016 is here and covers a broader range of topics. This conversation focuses more explicitly on the roles of architecture and space in helping to establish social connections and provide people with resources to act in space. It also covers looking and the visual’s relation to the social as well as how Hertzberger himself looks and works. The interview took place on May 3rd, 2017. Continue reading “Interview with Herman Hertzberger (2017): architecture as visual and social connection”

Measuring and Evaluating as Rhetorical Management

Are evaluation and measuring a form of rhetorics? A political art of obscuring the political? What’s Post-Occupancy Evaluation got to do with it?

I’m struggling to write a chapter about the measurement and evaluation of school buildings in use, what’s called “Post-Occupancy Evaluation”. Writing this is an attempt to clarify some thoughts about how the selection and measurement of values in a process of evaluating buildings is necessarily political and involves the communication and projection of particular values (rather than a mere recording of them). I argue that evaluation, what is valued and their promulgation can be thought of as a form of rhetorics. Continue reading “Measuring and Evaluating as Rhetorical Management”

An Anarchic Take on Architecture, Space and Education – Giancarlo De Carlo and Franco Bunčuga’s Conversazioni su Architettura e Libertà

Some notes about a book of interviews with Italian architect and anarchist thinker Giancarlo De Carlo.

Image of cover of De Carlo and Buncuga book

The following are notes on some themes (principally space and education) I found interesting in Giancarlo de Carlo and Franco Bunčuga’s Conversazioni su Architettura e Libertà (2014, 2nd edition) [Conversations about Architecture and Liberty]. Continue reading “An Anarchic Take on Architecture, Space and Education – Giancarlo De Carlo and Franco Bunčuga’s Conversazioni su Architettura e Libertà”

What High Schools Look Like and Why

After 1968, James Ackerman, Giancarlo De Carlo and others questioned school design: why? why like this? This post revisits their questions.

In the Middle Ages, colleges like those at Oxford looked like monasteries because the Establishment was theocratic; today [1969], our high schools look like factories and regiment students like the labor force because the Establishment is commercial and industrial.” (James S. Ackerman)

Ackerman is generalising and knows it. He wants to skip past instances of particular schools in particular places and think about why they tend to look as they do: it’s a question that’s often ignored.

But ignoring why facilitates an automaticity about school design that works to obscure who they are designed for and what purposes. [1] Schools, Ackerman says, are not built for students but for Continue reading “What High Schools Look Like and Why”

What Are We Building Schools For Again?

For OECD and UNICEF, the well-being of UK young people is not good. Is it time to rethink the aim of school architecture?

Earlier this week, the OECD published its findings on student well-being [PDF, 6MB]. When 15-year-olds across the world sat the 2015 PISA reading, writing and science tests, they also responded to a questionnaire that sought to explore their satisfaction with life in general, and, in more specific terms, their self-reported social, cognitive, psychological and physical well-being (as defined by the OECD). [1]

Michael Gove, when Secretary of State for Education, would use PISA results (but only some) as a justification for continued reform. For example: Continue reading “What Are We Building Schools For Again?”

Transitions: Inhabiting Innovative Learning Environments

Transitions: Inhabiting Innovative Learning Environments – Graduate research symposia.

While the provision of innovative learning environments in many countries around the world is an exciting and overdue development, they are also presenting new challenges for teachers.
Continue reading “Transitions: Inhabiting Innovative Learning Environments”

Conference: educational architecture – pasts, presents and futures.




27 September – 29 September 2017

The Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, Campus Copenhagen, Tuborgvej 164, 2400 Copenhagen, Denmark.

The purpose of this conference is to bring together international scholars working in the field of educational architecture in the broadest sense of the words. Continue reading “Conference: educational architecture – pasts, presents and futures.”

On Forgetting: Some Similarities between Architecture and Social Media

Architecture and social media share a way of being understood as neutral things – their social production being obscured.

Both architecture and social media provide structures through which people interact and those interactions are encouraged in certain ways. They also share a tendency to be recognised less by the social action which go into making them what they are, but by their identification as things: buildings in one case, platforms in the other. Their social production is often forgotten. Continue reading “On Forgetting: Some Similarities between Architecture and Social Media”

An Interview with Jill Blackmore on space, learning, feminism and the politics of education

Professor Jill Blackmore discusses learning spaces, teachers’ work, feminism and the complexity of education.

Jill Blackmore is Professor of Education and former Director of the Centre for Research in Educational Futures and Innovation at Deakin University, Victoria, Australia.

She has published widely in education and sociology with a longstanding interest in issues of equity, feminism, teachers’ work and classroom practice. Recently she has led teams studying school learning environments leading to an extremely useful literature review, Research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes (PDF, 3MB) as well as the Innovative Learning Environments Research Study (PDF, 1MB) (See also Jill also advises the OECD on their Learning Environments Evaluation Programme.

This interview crosses a lot of ground – from her recent work exploring teachers’ use of space to her own teaching Continue reading “An Interview with Jill Blackmore on space, learning, feminism and the politics of education”

Pearson, IBM Watson and cognitive enhancement technologies in education

An excellent piece reblogged from Ben Williamson’s (Stirling University) site on the coalescing of business, Artificial Intelligence, learning, data and governance – a definite recommend to read. These are some thoughts on what the implications of Ben’s post could mean for school architecture in the long term.

In some ways the implications of what Ben is writing about for students and education are very worrying. However, as well as monitoring and critiquing the development of Artificial Intelligence and new business models (as Ben does so well here), his post perhaps points to a role for re-asserting the value of physical, bricks-and-mortar schools and their design in principally social and sociable terms.

School architecture is often (and increasingly I think) expressed in terms that emphasise its contribution to learning. As one component of why schools are important that’s fine. But when definitions and, importantly, measures of learning are as narrow as they are in England, for example, there is a risk that schools are perceived, funded and built with a functionalist frame of mind: the measure of a good school building is its contribution to (narrowly-defined) learning.

In this sense, architecture becomes a technology of learning maximisation, crowding out schools’ social purpose and makes it harder to discuss what else schools might be about. If or when this added-value-to-learning approach to school architecture is shown to be outwitted by AI (by their own definitions of learning, of course), or schools are deemed to be unnecessarily expensive bits of real estate when Pearson et al can do it all remotely, then the (narrow) school design→increased learning argument will be challenged.

It’s easy to be alarmist with this stuff (another reason why the post is so good, it’s a very measured argument) but I think this is a debate worth having: What are schools for again? Is it principally learning? Rather than learning the kind of things that are algorithmically promoted or most amenable to forming the basis of a reliable performance measure, what do we want that learning to be about, with whom and how?

code acts in education

Ben Williamson

ibm-watsonImage: Atomic Taco

The world’s largest edu-business, Pearson, partnered with one of the world’s largest computing companies, IBM, at the end of October 2016 to develop new approaches to education in the ‘cognitive era.’ Their partnership was anticipated earlier in the year when both organizations produced reports about the future trajectories of cognitive computing and artificial intelligence for personalizing learning. I wrote a piece highlighting the key claims of both at the time, and have previously published some articles tracing both Pearson’s interests in big data and IBM’s development of cognitive systems for learning. The announcement of their partnership is the next step in their efforts to install new machine intelligences and cognitive systems into educational institutions and processes.

At first sight, it might seem surprising that IBM and Pearson have partnered together. Their reports would suggest they were competing to produce a new…

View original post 2,146 more words

A List of Museums of School, School Life and Education

A list – to be updated – of school museums (that is, museums of school life or buildings) in Europe and a few beyond.

Below is a list of museums related to school and school life. I’m happy to add to it or make corrections if you have suggestions – just use the Comments form, below. Thanks. Continue reading “A List of Museums of School, School Life and Education”

The Museum of School Life, Nerokourou, Crete

The old village primary school (1930-2000) in Nerokourou (Crete) is now the Museum of School Life (Μουσείο Σχολικής Ζωής) and striking for its reminders of the physicality of education and material technologies of teaching and learning.

The old primary school in the village of Nerokourou, just outside of Chania, Crete, was open to students between 1930 and 2000. When the new and much larger primary opened, 100 metres up the hill, Headteacher Dimitris Kartsakis and his wife Maria Drakaki wanted to keep the original school as an educational tool in its own right. With teaching materials, school bags and tunics from the 1940s and 50s, curricula, registers with students’ marks, maps, restored desks and seating, clippers for cutting the hair of children with lice, the Museum of School Life opened in 2006. Continue reading “The Museum of School Life, Nerokourou, Crete”

Flexibility, Time and Learning Spaces

If teachers don’t have time to make flexibility happen, a learning environment isn’t flexible. This post proposes a breakdown into 4 types of flexibility based on the temporal (& other) resources users need.

The flexibility of ‘flexible learning environments’ is a big part of my ongoing PhD research and I find it a thorny, intriguing ‘thing’. Flexibility is problematic in lots of ways and one of them, I think, is time – specifically the timescales over which we mean flexibility to apply.

Without an understanding of timescale, we don’t know:

(1) What type of flexibility is being discussed. Flexible as in I can switch things around now? Flexible as in I can adapt my space for next week’s project on aerodynamics/WWII or whatever? Flexible as in the space can be made larger, added on to, walls can move?

and these questions bear on… Continue reading “Flexibility, Time and Learning Spaces”

The Changing Vocabulary of Education and its Spaces

A post exploring changes in the words used to talk about education e.g. the shift from “classroom” to “learning space”.

Over time we change the words we use to refer to things – in education just as elsewhere. One way to see how vocabulary shifts, is Google’s Ngram Viewer.

Ngram Viewer shows the percentage share a particular word or phrase gets of all words or phrases published in a particular year in books that are part of Google’s corpus or library of scanned books, 1500-2008. Looking over a number of years, you can get a sense of that word’s relative performance – whether it becomes more or less popular (in written, published, Google-scanned texts that is).

If two or more terms are close enough in frequency, they can be mapped on the same graph, for example ‘education’ vs ‘learning’:

An image from Ngram Viewer showing relative trends in the words 'education' and 'learning' between 1800 and 2008

Link to this chart in Ngram Viewer

‘Education’ and ‘learning’ are very different kinds of words but Continue reading “The Changing Vocabulary of Education and its Spaces”

An Ideal School-Building Programme

Thinking about some of the differences between school-building programmes in Australia, England and Italy got me wondering – what would you want in an ideal school-building programme?

Here’s a personal wish-list though I’d welcome suggestions. Continue reading “An Ideal School-Building Programme”

The spaces have to really want to change: an interview with architect Ruth Taylor

Ruth Taylor was born in London, England and attended schools in Surrey and Buckinghamshire. Prior to studying Architecture at University of Westminster she studied English Literature and Language at University of Liverpool followed by four years working for an investment bank. Before joining SCABAL, as a Senior architect in 2008, she worked with Cottrell & Vermuelen Architecture, Sarah Wigglesworth Architects and Dinwiddie MacLaren Architects gaining particular experience of Education projects as well as working on community, arts, conservation and residential buildings. Continue reading “The spaces have to really want to change: an interview with architect Ruth Taylor”

Hertzberger’s ‘cupboardness’


Should schools have cosy, secluded spaces for children? The architect Herman Hertzberger thinks so. His ‘little library,” is one example: a small space beneath a staircase*, furnished with a single, child-scaled chair that offers an inviting, secluded space without prescribing exactly how the space should be used.

In Space and Learning (2008), Hertzberger’s text about spatial opportunities in schools and how they could lead to better education, he writes, “[p]eople and things require nooks and crannies to inhabit in space” and then describes an essential quality of such spaces as “‘cupboardness’, with the kangaroo as our ideal.” Continue reading “Hertzberger’s ‘cupboardness’”

An educational paradox: where beginner readers learn in school

As a collaborative* doctoral research student in the field of architecture and education, I’m often asked to explain what my research is about. I’m always surprised by how much my answer changes according to who I’m talking to, when and where we’re talking and how I’m feeling about what I’m reading and writing at the time.  Far from having a polished elevator pitch, my thoughts about what I’m up to change and develop week by week.

As I’m currently contemplating the writing of my final thesis, I thought I might try and compress my research into a short description here for this blog, offering it in a spirit of exploration and curiosity (mine, as much as yours, I suspect).

paper model nook

I’m interested in where children learn in schools. There hasn’t been much academic or professional research in the field of education about that, although there are some notable exceptions**. Continue reading “An educational paradox: where beginner readers learn in school”

Learning how to listen: an interview with Jennifer Singer

Jennifer Singer is an architect and education design advisor. She has collaborated with students, teachers, parents, contractors, local authorities, government bodies, developers and others on the design of nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools throughout the UK. Originally from Philadelphia, USA, Jennifer is based in London.

Jennifer Singer
Jennifer Singer


Tell me about an early school.

I lived in a suburban area of Philadelphia and my elementary school was designed in the 1950s, as was every school in the area.  It was three-form entry and it was a sprawling building but I don’t remember it feeling overwhelming, maybe because it was all built on one level.  Every classroom had a door to the outside leading into the playground and that’s where we spent much of our time. Continue reading “Learning how to listen: an interview with Jennifer Singer”

Shopping for Schools 2 – Schools Advertising

Catch a bus or a train and you’re now likely to see advertisements for state-funded schools. That’s odd.

Last year I wrote a post on how – if architects wanted to get involved with facilitating a market economy of publicly-funded schooling – some of their thinking could have quite pernicious effects.

It was sparked by an article in the Architects’ Journal: ‘As schools behave more like private businesses they will be in competition with one another to attract the best teachers and students. Architects can draw on their experience in the private sector to help them achieve this.’

This follow-up post Continue reading “Shopping for Schools 2 – Schools Advertising”

Schools should feel more like home: an interview with Lina Iordanaki

Lina Iordanaki is from Piraeus in Greece. Her first degree was in Primary Education and her master’s degree in Literature at the University of Athens. She is currently a 3rd-year PhD student in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge. Her research areas include picturebooks, graphic novels, literacy and poetry for children. Her PhD thesis investigates children’s responses to wordless picturebooks.


Tell me about your first school.

I remember my primary school vividly. Continue reading “Schools should feel more like home: an interview with Lina Iordanaki”

Architecture and Education seminar: two-footed stories of exploration. May 11th 2016, University of Cambridge


Over the past three years, an innovative collaborative research partnership, funded by the AHRC has been established between the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge and SCABAL architecture studio, London.

The partnership is entitled ‘Creative Discipline: exploring the value of design in building high quality schools supporting excellence in teaching and learning.’

Three doctoral researchers, Emma Dyer, Karolina Szynalska and Tom Bellfield, are currently conducting PhD studies, jointly supervised by Dr Cathy Burke at the Faculty of Education and Dominic Cullinan at SCABAL. Their research questions and subsequent studies have been generated through this bipedular partnership, with one foot in academia and the other foot in practice.

This seminar will share some current research findings, projections Continue reading “Architecture and Education seminar: two-footed stories of exploration. May 11th 2016, University of Cambridge”

Italy’s ‘Competition of Ideas’ for a New School-Building Programme

Italy’s “Competition of Ideas” for Innovative Schools could stimulate architectural & educational debate.

In early February 2016, the Italian government’s Ministry of Education, Universities and Research published some of the details of a ‘Competition of ideas for the realisation of innovative schools’ [pdf, 2.5MB]. It’s open to any professionally recognised architect or engineer in the EU.

I’ve translated Article 2 of the decree law (below) that sets up the competition because it’s pretty interesting for a number of reasons: Continue reading “Italy’s ‘Competition of Ideas’ for a New School-Building Programme”

Post-Occupancy Evaluation and Schools – an interview with Adrian Leaman

Adrian Leaman on what makes school buildings special, PoE and managing complexity.

Adrian Leaman runs Building Use Studies and leads the educational and dissemination activities of the Usable Buildings Trust, a UK educational charity with the aim of promoting information about buildings in use from technical and human perspectives. He has had a long interest in built space and its organisation and is keen that future design can benefit from lessons learned in existing buildings. Hence our discussion here focuses on post-occupancy evaluation (PoE) and the feedback loops that can lead to better school buildings.

With this site, Emma and I are trying to understand how school architecture and space are lived. With your experience of Post-Occupancy Evaluation (PoE), what would you say make schools special, space-wise? Continue reading “Post-Occupancy Evaluation and Schools – an interview with Adrian Leaman”

Rising to the challenge: an interview with Helen Taylor, architect

Helen Taylor is Practice Director at Scott Brownrigg, responsible for the strategic planning and implementation of programmes to enhance technical competence and expertise across the whole company. As well as specialising in education design, Helen is committed to sustainability, diversity and inclusive design. She is well-recognised through her collaboration with industry bodies and is a founder member and co-chair of Architects for Change, the RIBA’s Equality & Diversity Forum; Chair of the RIBA Inclusive Design Committee; and Convenor of the RIBA Schools Client Forum; Co-chair of the Construction Industry Council Green Construction Panel; a mentor for the Construction Industry Council Fluid Mentoring Programme.

Helen Taylor

Tell me about your own early experiences of school.

My birthday’s in July and I don’t know if it’s because we’d moved or because I was young in the year, but I remember arriving at school Continue reading “Rising to the challenge: an interview with Helen Taylor, architect”

When School Architecture Meant System Architecture

In 1811, Joseph Lancaster publishes his Hints and Directions for Building, Fitting Up, and Arranging School Rooms, one of the key triggers for the idea of a modern school building and a legacy-leaving document that affects how we think of schools today and perhaps even the fact that we can think of schools today. Just four years later in the Paris of 1815, Charles de Lasteyrie writes this Continue reading “When School Architecture Meant System Architecture”

Interview with Herman Hertzberger (2016)

Herman Hertzberger, born in Amsterdam in 1932, is one of the world’s pre-eminent architects.

He founded Architectuurstudio HH in 1960 and continues to run this thriving practice in the centre of Amsterdam. Best known for his designs of cultural buildings, housing complexes, offices and schools, he is also a prolific writer and teacher. His books, include a series of Lessons for Students in Architecture and Architecture and Structuralism: The Ordering of Space (2014) and he has held a number of academic posts, including professorships in the Netherlands and beyond.

Herman Hertzberger’s views about how education can be promoted through architecture and how schools should be designed for the young today are the subject of this interview for A&E, as well as his lively insights into his own childhood and schooling in Amsterdam in the 1930s. The interview took place on the 9th of September 2015 at his offices in Amsterdam, with questions from Dominic Cullinan, Dr Catherine Burke and Emma Dyer. A further interview from 2017 is also available on this site, here.



As a small boy I lived in this fantastic urban housing project called Plan Zuid in the South of Amsterdam designed by Hendrik Berlage.  It was a special place with good streets Continue reading “Interview with Herman Hertzberger (2016)”

Do Buildings: a) dictate b) choreograph… …e) suggest what you do…

You’re in a building. (And if you’re not, just pretend your app/software or whatever is a building anyway, it kind of is.)

Does this building you’re in:

  1. Dictate what you do
  2. Choreograph what you do
  3. Shape what you do
  4. Influence what you do
  5. Suggest what you do
  6. Do nothing, I decide what I do
  7. None of the above, something else.

Continue reading “Do Buildings: a) dictate b) choreograph… …e) suggest what you do…”

Discipline and punish in a Pugin school: an interview with Anne Prendergast

Anne Prendergast has spent 30 years in media and publishing and is currently media director at Strattons: a bespoke advertising and design agency specialising in luxury travel, fashion and interior decorating.  A graduate of Bristol University and the University of London she also is a new business consultant for Webpuzzle an innovative, digital content management system.


Tell me about your first school.

It was a local Catholic primary school, St Mary’s Brewood. Continue reading “Discipline and punish in a Pugin school: an interview with Anne Prendergast”

Interview with Irene Lindsay

Irene Lindsay is the Assistant Head of a 2-form entry primary school in Raynes Park, London, which was refurbished by Haverstock Architects in 2012. She has been working in primary education as a teacher since she trained at Roehampton University in the early 2000s.  Before that she worked in music education while bringing up her four children.  Her first degree, from University College, London is in geography.


Tell me about your first experiences of school.

I went to eleven schools Continue reading “Interview with Irene Lindsay”

Problem-solving and school design: an interview with Tim Byrne.

Tim Byrne is a writer and illustrator of books for children and young adults and a digital technology expert, currently a senior project manager at Macmillan cancer support.  He was a primary school teacher, ITC co-ordinator and gifted and talented advisor in schools in Lincolnshire and South West London between 1995 and 2008. He has also written a range of education content for BBC Schools and worked as a digital advisor and website manager for the National Literacy Trust.

Tell me about your first school.

The first experience of school I can remember Continue reading “Problem-solving and school design: an interview with Tim Byrne.”

Improving access in schools: an interview with Jane Simpson

20150919_130659An Architect and NRAC registered Access Consultant, Jane is the Director of her own company; Jane Simpson Access Ltd. She has over two decades of experience in inclusion and is noted for her knowledge of the educational sector. She provides advice on a broad range of issues, often clarifying complex aspects of the Equality Act 2010, Special Education Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) and other statutory and legislative information. Her work encompasses Continue reading “Improving access in schools: an interview with Jane Simpson”

Schools and School Design in Africa: An Interview with Ola Uduku

Ola Uduku (Edinburgh University) speaks about the historical influence of Western pedagogies and architectural traditions and their local adaptation in school design.

Ola Uduku is Reader in Architecture and Dean International for Africa at Edinburgh University’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA). Her research specialisms are the history of educational architecture in Africa and contemporary issues related to social infrastructure provision for minority communities in cities in the ‘West’ and ‘South’. She is also involved in research into environmental analysis, and measurement tools and apps for educational and third sector uses. Continue reading “Schools and School Design in Africa: An Interview with Ola Uduku”

The importance of acoustics in learning: an interview with Shane Cryer, Ecophon


Shane Cryer manages the education sector in the UK and Ireland for Swedish acoustic experts, Ecophon. After a career in the construction industry, having studied building and property surveying, he now concentrates on building acoustics. Working closely with organisations such as The Institute of Acoustics (IOA) and the RIBA, Shane has been promoting the new BB93: Acoustic Design of Schools standard via CPD seminars, conferences and articles in the trade press. Continue reading “The importance of acoustics in learning: an interview with Shane Cryer, Ecophon”

Futures for English School Design

The following is a list of things we learned during the Education Estates conference, held in Manchester on 10-11th November 2015. Continue reading “Futures for English School Design”

Why are people so fixated on area in schools and not on cost?


I returned home from the Education Estates* conference in Manchester earlier this week with one question lodged firmly in my head: why are people so fixated on area in schools and not on cost?

The question was asked at the very end of the conference in the final session Continue reading “Why are people so fixated on area in schools and not on cost?”

Does a School Building need to look like a School?

…is a question posed by the architect of the school where I’m doing my research. It came up in an interview over a year ago and has stuck with me ever since. Neither of us answered his question Continue reading “Does a School Building need to look like a School?”

Architecture as a Social Science?

Some ideas for seeing architecture as – amongst other things – a social science. Also a bit on why the social sciences seem to ignore architecture.

The idea of architecture as a social science might seem odd but there’s not much that more powerfully places, joins, separates and patterns people, their groups and relations than the built spaces we live, work and learn in. That, in brief, is the social side of things, explored below in more detail. And as for science (rather than as a practice or art which architecture can also be), well, an architectural design is a type of Continue reading “Architecture as a Social Science?”

I started school twice: an interview with Bridget Murray, teacher

Bridget Murray attended primary schools in the late 1970s in Middlesborough, Hertfordshire and Basingstoke, Hampshire (UK) where she also went to secondary school.  After a degree in Computer Science at Warwick University, Bridget took a PGCE at the Institute of Education and taught in primary schools in London and Kent.  In the past five years she has also been a school governor at a primary school in Surrey, where she now lives.  No longer a teacher, she is now an artist and writer.

Tell me about your first experience of school

I actually started school twice Continue reading “I started school twice: an interview with Bridget Murray, teacher”

Shopping for Schools – Should Architects Help?

This worries me:

As schools behave more like private businesses they will be in competition with one another to attract the best teachers and students. Architects can draw on their experience in the private sector to help them achieve this.

It worries me because I think some of it (in England) is probably true.

It worries me because Continue reading “Shopping for Schools – Should Architects Help?”

A less modern but more hi-tech primary: more from the DfE’s PSBP

Following yesterday’s cheaper, faster … and better?  post, I must apologise for a lack of thoroughness in my research of the school building and maintenance section of the Gov.UK website.  At the time of writing I had only read one of the DfE’s latest press releases, dated 21st September 2015, about their Priority School’s Building Programme’s new and clearly very modern schools. Continue reading “A less modern but more hi-tech primary: more from the DfE’s PSBP”

PBSP school buildings in the UK: cheaper, faster… better?

A Victorian-era community primary has been rebuilt as a modern replacement primary academy in the West Midlands of England and the DfE puts out a press release to celebrate its opening.

As a promotional puff for a new school, some of the language used initially strikes me as rather odd. Continue reading “PBSP school buildings in the UK: cheaper, faster… better?”

Allowing for easy interaction: an interview with Hedwig Heinsman, DUS architects, Amsterdam



Hedwig Heinsman is an architect who grew up in the Dutch Flevopolder and now lives and works in Amsterdam. One of the three co-founders of DUS architects, probably best known for their 3D Print Canal House, she is passionate about public and social architecture.  Hedwig is a graduate of Delft Technical University and the Helsinki University of Technology. DUS are about to leave their current Open Co-op building and move to a larger site.

Tell me about your first school.

My parents were teachers Continue reading “Allowing for easy interaction: an interview with Hedwig Heinsman, DUS architects, Amsterdam”

Interview with Estelle Morris, Baroness Morris of Yardley

Estelle Morris, Baroness Morris of Yardley, former British secretary of state for Education and Skills (2001-2) taught PE and Humanities from the mid-1970s until 1992, when she was elected as Member of Parliament for Birmingham Yardley. In 2005 she joined the House of Lords as a Labour peer.

What are your early memories of school?

In primary school I can recall the pebbledash walls, the open corridor Continue reading “Interview with Estelle Morris, Baroness Morris of Yardley”

Interview with Sarah Cuthill, archivist and librarian

Sarah Cuthill is school librarian at Clifton High School in Bristol, England and has worked in archives and libraries in universities, the arts and business, both in the UK and in Australia. She began her school life in Buckinghamshire in the UK and then moved with her family to Switzerland at the age of ten.

Tell me about your first school.

My first school was St Mary’s C of E in Amersham. Continue reading “Interview with Sarah Cuthill, archivist and librarian”

Interview with Sue Steggles, teacher.

Sue Steggles was a pupil at John Scurr primary school, Bethnal Green in the East End of London in the 1960s. After attending grammar school, she trained to be a nursery nurse. Subsequently, she retrained as a primary school teacher and taught at Curwen primary school in Plaistow, Essex, Old Ford Primary in Bow, London and now teaches at Sheringham Primary in the London Borough of Newham.  Sue has moved away from classroom teaching and currently leads an intervention programme for reading and writing (Reading Recovery) in the school as well has having management responsibilities.

Tell me about your first experience of school.

I went to school in the ’60s Continue reading “Interview with Sue Steggles, teacher.”

Measuring the Impact of School Design – Differently

To move beyond traditional measures of research impact, this post on the LSE Impact blog proposes a range of alternative indicators. So alongside H-Index, number of citations etc there are many more provocative and interesting suggestions eg: angry letters from powerful people; town hall meetings; place of publication. They’re problematic for sure, but each reveals something that meaningfully broadens ways to think about impact.

What if we were to do the same for school design? Continue reading “Measuring the Impact of School Design – Differently”

Summer Reading – “Seeing Like a State” and the survival of high modernism in school planning

For a book that says almost nothing about Education – no classrooms, no students or teachers, no school architecture – James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State is one of the best I’ve read on school design, being in schools and education.

He takes a phrase, “high modernism”, and uses it as a way to understand the rise of scientific forestry in late 18th century Prussia and Saxony, the creation of surnames in the Philippines in 1849 by the ruling Spanish, the planning of Brasília between 1956-61, villagization schemes in 1970s Tanzania and many other cases: it comes to mean Continue reading “Summer Reading – “Seeing Like a State” and the survival of high modernism in school planning”

Interview preview: with special school deputy head Pamela Murphy

Pamela Murphy read Geography at the University of Cambridge before working as a University administrator and then training as a primary teacher. She worked in a mainstream school as a class teacher before working in two special schools and she is currently the assistant head teacher of Queen Elizabeth II special school in London. Pupils at the school are aged between 4  19 years and have severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties as well as complex physical and medical needs. This is an extract from an interview with Pamela for A&E. 


In my third and final year at the first special school where I worked, I had a class of children who were severely autistic with huge sensory needs. We were on the middle corridor and across from us was a big hall and doors that opened out onto it.  So in that middle corridor I had a group of children, all non-verbal, huge sensory issues, all with issues about transition from Year 6 and a classroom that was in no way suitable for these kids that opened directly onto a hall where anyone could be having a PE lesson.   Continue reading “Interview preview: with special school deputy head Pamela Murphy”

Interview with Suvani Dave

Suvani Dave has attended independent primary and secondary schools in Ashford, Windsor and Hounslow.  She is currently a student in the sixth form at Orleans Park secondary school in Twickenham, where she is taking ‘A’ levels in art, maths and psychology.  She is considering studying architecture at university in the USA or the UK.  Suvani is a talented artist, whose work has already attracted attention from private collectors.

A journey into maps by Suvani Dave
A journey through maps by Suvani Dave

What do you remember about your first school?

Despite the fact that I was only five when I first saw my old school, Continue reading “Interview with Suvani Dave”

AR’s School Awards: will the interiors count? That’s where students spend their 13,585 school hours…

As the Architectural Review’s School Awards close, let’s hope the judges give due emphasis to the design of the interiors since this is where students and teachers spend most of their time. And Architecture as I’ve argued before already pays too much attention to exteriors. But insides count!

Let’s say students are inside for 5.5 hours a day Continue reading “AR’s School Awards: will the interiors count? That’s where students spend their 13,585 school hours…”

A school on the edge of a small town

Treetops Primary is to be sited on the edge of a small town in the South of England on a large site with plenty of room for a large school playing field.  The school will be two-form entry (420 pupils) with a 56 place fte.nursery, which may be separate or linked to the school.

This is the first paragraph of the brief I wrote for a design exercise for SCABAL Open Studios on June 4th 2015 and discussed in my two previous posts, Architecture, design and embarrassment and What is a class?

In the brief I also requested Continue reading “A school on the edge of a small town”

What is a class?

I’d never been inside an architect’s office until a couple of years ago but I’d always been curious to know what architects actually did while they were at work.  I suppose I imagined them sharing ideas around a table, talking, drawing, drinking coffee, making models, both real and virtual … that sort of thing.

It only took a couple of visits to an architectural studio for me to realise that my imagination Continue reading “What is a class?”

Architecture, design and embarrassment

As a student of architecture and education you have all the fun and none of the responsibilities of the professional architect/educator.  In June I was given the opportunity by SCABAL to write a brief for their architectural studio’s open day to design a primary school in a day.

Once I’d written the brief, Continue reading “Architecture, design and embarrassment”

Can Economics explain why we don’t know what schools users think of their schools?

Recently I’ve been learning about Post-Occupancy Evaluation, mostly from the tons of great resources at the Usable Buildings Trust. It’s got me thinking why there’s nothing in place for systematically asking the young people and adults who spend lots of time in school buildings what they think of those school buildings nor means to share that information in order to inform future designs.

One reason might be economic. Knowledge is a public good, defined as (1) non-rivalrous Continue reading “Can Economics explain why we don’t know what schools users think of their schools?”

Wiping the slate clean: one way to declutter a primary school

When I asked Catherine Burke what she would wish for if she could change just one thing in all schools, this is how she replied:

(T)o remove everything from schools including all the clutter and all the paraphernalia and all the technology and all the stuff and then have a really good think about what was necessary to bring back.

And to try and justify bringing everything back. Continue reading “Wiping the slate clean: one way to declutter a primary school”

The phantom cloakroom

When I was considering whether to include my own childhood school as one of a series of research visits to primary schools, I wondered how that might affect the research.  It wasn’t until after I’d made the visit that I remembered Katie Jones & Jon Anderson’s excellent (2009) paper about the methodologies of different research spaces in schools and the fact that Jones was visiting her own (secondary) school for her research project.  However, unlike Jones, a young researcher, Continue reading “The phantom cloakroom”

Are you in the right home, near the right school? Are you sure?

A video popped up on Facebook:

Image of Rightmove's advert for its new School Checker
Screenshot 29/6/15 from Facebook of a “Suggested Video” advertising Rightmove’s new School Checker – helping people to find out (worry about?) whether homes and schools are the “right” ones.

Almost 2 years into a PhD studying a school and I’m less and less sure about where school starts and where it stops. School works its way into housing markets and into worries about Continue reading “Are you in the right home, near the right school? Are you sure?”

Interview with Suzi Hall, urban ethnographer and architect

Suzanne (Suzi) Hall is an ethnographer at the LSE, London, where she explores people’s lives in urban spaces. Prior to that she worked as an architect in South Africa. Her 2012 book City, Street and Citizen: the Measure of the Ordinary, published by Routledge, draws on her ethnography of the Walworth Road, a bustling, dynamic street in south London but also a “contextual lens with which to view local expressions of social adaptation in the face of global change.” (2012:4) She coordinates the Super-diverse Streets project based at LSE Cities in London and this interview (by email) follows a May 2015 course there on Critical Urban Ethnography.

Do your own experiences of school shape how you think of people sharing space now?

A definitive no: I grew up in Apartheid South Africa and went to state schools. Continue reading “Interview with Suzi Hall, urban ethnographer and architect”

Interview with Judith Baines

Judith Baines was born in 1933 and is a former primary school teacher and Deputy Head.  She pioneered progressive teaching methods at Eynsham Primary in Oxfordshire with her husband George Baines from the late 1960s until the 1980s.  Judith and George then worked at Bishop Grossteste College, Lincoln, a teacher training college, before their retirement to the Isle of Arran, Scotland, where Judith has continued to live since George’s death in 2009.

Tell me about your first experience of school.

We lived in Hornchurch and at four years old I went to a little private school in Upminster called Hill House Continue reading “Interview with Judith Baines”

Interview with Ruth Benn and Rebecca Skelton, teachers at Sparrow Farm Infants & Nursery school, Feltham.

Ruth Benn and Rebecca Skelton teach at Sparrow Farm Infants & Nursery school in Feltham, close to Heathrow Airport. Rebecca began working at the school in September 2013, after completing a PGCE in Primary Education while Ruth joined the school a year later after finishing her BA in Education. They both work in the Year One classrooms in the main building of the school, which dates back to the late 1950s.  In the past year, two building projects have been completed: a new nursery building, detached from the original site; and a small self-contained building known as the ‘eco-hut’ or ‘the nest’, designed for small group or one to one interventions, teaching and assessment.   We talked in Rebecca’s classroom after the pupils had gone home for the day on June 8th 2015.


Emma: Can I ask you both about your own early experiences of school buildings?  What was your school like?


Rebecca:  I went to two primary schools that were very different. Continue reading “Interview with Ruth Benn and Rebecca Skelton, teachers at Sparrow Farm Infants & Nursery school, Feltham.”

Making Spaces, Forgetting Politics

Walls* are breaks (Vesely, 2013). They break into established categories of meaning and space and make new ones. They do that publicly too, so we could also say that walls have a communicative function to orient attention and shout about what it is they’re doing.

And a school’s walls are especially powerful since they break into space in so many ways. They start by making school school and differentiating it from the outside Continue reading “Making Spaces, Forgetting Politics”

Why are there so many interviews on the A&E site?

For a while, I’ve been posting interviews here without writing anything about why these interviews are such an integral part of the A&E website.  So here’s my attempt at an explanation.

One of the reasons for creating this site was to have a good look at the intersection between architecture and education.  When I initially thought about this intersection, the words I’d have used to describe these ‘things in-between’ would probably have been ‘school design’ or even ‘school buildings and their surroundings.’  But I quickly came to realise Continue reading “Why are there so many interviews on the A&E site?”

Interview with Georgie Hughes, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Tower Hamlets

Georgina (Georgie) Hughes is the Reading Recovery teacher leader for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and also trains teachers in Reading Recovery for other London boroughs.  Georgie is based at the two-form entry Osmani Primary School in Whitechapel, East London, where she is the Inclusion Manager.  Osmani’s intake of children is primarily of Bangladeshi heritage, with seventy per cent eligible for free school meals and where the majority of pupils begin school with limited knowledge of English.  The school is housed in an Edwardian former secondary school building and has a spacious feel, with generous sized classrooms and a large number of support rooms available for one to one and small group tuition.  Georgie graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a degree in European studies before moving to London for her Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and a Masters in Reading Recovery and Literary Leadership at the Institute of Education. Georgie was my teacher leader when I trained as a Reading Recovery teacher in Tower Hamlets in 2010.

Think back to your first school.  What was it like?

My very first school? Continue reading “Interview with Georgie Hughes, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Tower Hamlets”

“Zigzag, white, no life”: a Martian’s View of Architecture

Our interactions with Google search results appear to contribute to the fetishization of Architecture as big white ribbed structures. This post explores why.

In a poem by Craig Raine, A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, the alien narrator describes the strange goings-on of humans to friends and family back on Mars. The unlikely language used to describe this foreign world is an effective way to make the world strange again, a tool to look at things differently. Mist, for example, “is when the sky is tired of flight / and rests its soft machine on ground” and a car “is a room with the lock inside – / a key is turned to free the world // for movement”.

Which made me think – what if a Martian did a Google Image search for the word “architecture”? Continue reading ““Zigzag, white, no life”: a Martian’s View of Architecture”

Interview with Rima Tarar, architecture student

Rima Tarar was born in Paris in the early 1990s, where she attended nursery and primary school.  One year into her secondary education, with very little English, she moved to London and was enrolled in a state secondary school in Hackney.  Rima is currently studying interior architecture at London Metropolitan University and considering a number of career options, including architecture.

Tell me about your first school.

I really remember my nursery school, actually. Continue reading “Interview with Rima Tarar, architecture student”

Interview with Dominic Cullinan, SCABAL

Dominic Cullinan is an architect and founding partner of SCABAL (Studio Cullinan & Buck Architects Ltd.) based in Hatton Garden.  Dominic met Jon Buck at Ian Richie architects in 1989 and they have worked together ever since, forming a partnership as Cullinan & Buck Architects in 1996.

Dominic with Felix Xylander-Swannell at SCABAL designing A School in a Day
Dominic with Felix Xylander-Swannell at SCABAL designing A School in a Day

Tell me about your first school?

My primary school in Ashford in Kent Continue reading “Interview with Dominic Cullinan, SCABAL”

Interview with Nicky Manby, Chair of Governors, Pakeman Primary, London

Nicky Manby first became involved with Pakeman Primary, a North London state primary school, as a reading volunteer after a career as a French and German teacher.  The teaching and sharing of reading with children has been a significant part of her life and she believes that without good reading schools, children are held back in everything else they do.  As Chair of Governors at Pakeman Primary, Nicky initiated a project to build a ‘reading lodge’ in the playground.  She describes her ideal building as having  a tree growing up the centre of it, or at least a tree – filled courtyard and says, It’s still a dream of mine – to lie in a tree spitting cheery pits below, while immersed in a book. Here Nicky reflects on her own schooling in the USA, Switzerland and France and its influence on her work at Pakeman Primary.

What do you remember about your first school?

My first school was in Arlington, Virginia Continue reading “Interview with Nicky Manby, Chair of Governors, Pakeman Primary, London”

Open Space Good, Closed Space Bad? Problems with Architecture and Language

In which Marie, a 12-year-old student, explains how large, open-plan spaces feel claustrophobic.

The ideological baggage words carry help to shape how we understand school learning spaces.

Because I spend a lot of time in classrooms and open learning spaces and I’m trying to work out what these things mean, I end up thinking a lot about the role of language in communicating and selling architectural and educational ideas.

So it strikes me that in the case of Open Learning Spaces or Flexible Learning Spaces, say, we have already moved beyond mere description. These are value statements – think about what it would mean to talk about Closed Learning Spaces or Inflexible Learning Spaces.

“Open” belongs Continue reading “Open Space Good, Closed Space Bad? Problems with Architecture and Language”

What are schools for? An interview with Gert Biesta on the learnification of school buildings and education.

Gert Biesta on school architecture and democracy, and learnification – a reductive reappraisal of education as learning.

Gert Biesta’s work recalls our attention to the purpose of education – before asking whether something “works” educationally, he’s interested in what we mean by education, what is it for, who is it for? He’s a Professor at Brunel University in London and at the ArtEZ Institute of Arts in the Netherlands and a member of the Steering Committee for the Design Matters project. After giving a talk to research students in the Faculty of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, he kindly agreed to answer a few questions on how we talk and think about school buildings.

The full transcript’s below or there’s an easier-to-print pdf here. In summary though, we discussed the changing vocabulary whereby classrooms become learning spaces and how this relates to what he wryly terms “learnification”. Continue reading “What are schools for? An interview with Gert Biesta on the learnification of school buildings and education.”

Interview with Ji Yu (Summer)

Ji Yu, who likes to be known as Summer at the University of Cambridge where she is a doctoral student in Education, is investigating the impact of learning spaces upon student learning in higher education.  She is exploring this topic with a comparative (mixed methods) case study in China.   Summer grew up in Zixi, a town in Jiangxi Province, China.  Her undergraduate degree in Beijing was in civil engineering in and her Masters studies in Shanghai centred on a comparative study of learning spaces in Chinese primary schools with several Scottish primary schools.  I spoke with Summer on 11th May 2015 in  a central London cafe, just before she flew back to China to continue her research in the field.

Tell me about the first school you went to when you were a child.  What did it look like and feel like to you? 

Well, the first school I attended was the kindergarten but I couldn’t really remember it, so I think …. the one I remember is my primary school and it is very Chinese and a very traditional one. Continue reading “Interview with Ji Yu (Summer)”

Interview with Dr Catherine Burke

Dr Catherine Burke is a well-known historian of childhood, education and school design whose books include School (2008) and The School I’d Like (2003), both co-authored with Ian Grosvenor.  Her latest book, A Life in Education and Architecture, is a study of architect Mary Beaumont Medd (2013).  She reflected on her own experience of the materiality of school as a child growing up in Birmingham in an interview with Emma Dyer on 21st April 2015 in Cambridge, where she is Reader in History of Childhood and Education.

Tell me about your first school.

The first school I attended was Our Lady’s Catholic Primary school in Stechford in Birmingham.  I went there in 1962 when I was five and Continue reading “Interview with Dr Catherine Burke”