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 bore little resemblance to the reality of their day-to-day existence.  In fact it was probably about as accurate as my perception of lawyers based on episodes of The Good Wife or of city council workers from Parks & Rec.  But one glorious day in June, the architects at SCABAL opened their doors to the public as part of Open Studios and spent the whole day sitting at a large, round table together in a design exercise to create a primary school in a day.  They talked, drew, made models from coloured paper and cardboard and there was plentiful discussion and coffee.

Even if this particular day wasn’t representative of their daily work-life, it demonstrated an engagement with some of the questions that architects could usefully ask themselves about school design while they design. In this short piece of film taken on the day, the question has been posed What is a class? And it has been posed because the architects realise that they need to know this before they can start to design the school.

When I was working as a teacher, I didn’t once ask myself What is a class?  And if someone had asked me that question about a primary school class I’d probably have responded with something like this: a class is a group of thirty or so* children organised by age within a school who stay together in that formation as they move up through the school.  I’m not sure that I would have thought any further than the context of my immediate surroundings.

Interviews on this site have regularly posed the question: If an architect and an educator were to meet for coffee, what should they talk about?   Personally, I hope that they’d ask each other (and themselves) lots of questions including what is a class? what is a school? and what is a teacher?  They could even throw in what is an architect? for good measure. As the basis of school design, such questions are essential.  And if architects are talking to each about these questions as they design a school, so much the better, even if they don’t necessarily have definitive answers.

*in the mainstream state sector in the UK, at least


  1. Message for Emma Dyer

    Dear Emma,

    Did I dream it or did you suggest you might like to interview me for Architecture and Education…?? Just to let you know that I’ll be in and out of London quite a bit through August if you wanted to meet.

    Best wishes,

    Dr Pamela Woolner
    Lecturer in Education
    EdD Degree Programme Director

    Room 2.55
    King George VI Building
    Research Centre for Learning and Teaching
    School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences
    Newcastle University
    Newcastle upon Tyne
    NE1 7RU

    0191 208 5470


    1. It was not a dream. That would be great. Suggest some dates and I can come and find you, wherever suits you best.



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