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 and outside (ie in the vicinity, commuting, on break or lunch) for 1 hour.

11:2 is a big difference in relative terms for where people spend their time.

And absolute figures in a back-of-envelope sort of way (for England, apologies to other countries) has compulsory education years at 13, days at 190, hours at 5.5 = 13,585 hours inside school buildings over their school life-time.

And that guesstimate at 1 hour outside gives us 1 x 190 x 13 = 2,470 hours entering/leaving/around the exteriors of school buildings.

Let’s hope the judges (all designers – no students or teachers, next year maybe?) remember the insides too!


We shouldn’t forget other people in school – classroom teachers by this report from the BBC spend 57.5 hours / school week working of which 77.5% is in school, the rest at home, so 57.5 x 39 x 0.775 = 1738 hours inside school each year. No figures for other staff I’m afraid.

Whilst schools are much more than places to house students for the purpose of learning or even particular ways of organising people, that sense of commodity should be uppermost in decisions about their design – together with the recognition that it happens, for good or ill, largely inside.

Image Source: “2010-07-20 Black windup alarm clock face” by Sun Ladder – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


  1. While we’re talking about timings and the design of the interior of schools, I want to mention the lamentable lack of thought and care often paid to the provision of female toilets for students in UK schools. In the sixth form block of one new-build West London comprehensive there are two female toilets, i.e. cubicles, for approximately 120 female students. So if half of those students needed to use those toilets in one of their ten minute breaks between double lessons, (60 students divided by 10 minutes = 6 students per minute) then with two cubicles, each student would have approximately 20 seconds to use the toilet cubicle, presuming that both cubicles were in full working order. Did no-one even think to question this? We really could do better, this is a contemporary British school, not a 19th century London theatre. On your marks, girls …


  2. Well, yes … most of the time spent at school is indoors. But should it be? There is a massively disproportionate amount spent on the insides of schools compared to the outside which doesn’t only reflect the priorities of school sites but in itself it results in a disincentive to make more use of the outside.


  3. Marc – thank you, it’s a good point and I agree. My issue I suppose is with the way that images of schools as attractive monuments help to draw attention away from the ways in which school design organises – or attempts to organise – people and their activities. So people are kind of deleted from the picture and we’re often left with audacious buildings shot from the outside.

    It will be interesting to see how the competition works out. I guess with the panel as all designers it can only be about the design of a school measured on design terms rather than on use terms, which aren’t the same, but could perhaps be a little closer.

    But I’m with you on this. And you’re right to bring me up the fact that the post doesn’t point to the use of outside space enough. Unfortunately, recent changes to the performance measures of schools in England make it less likely that teachers use outside spaces as it concentrates attention on lesson-type learning. At secondary level that is, I don’t know much about primary. Re-thinking school design is impossible in my view without re-thinking also what assessment systems, performance measures, Ofqual and so on are designed to do. Witness Progress 8 and its narrowing of the curriculum in schools throughout the country. Similarly, honourable intentions with “new learning spaces” have made “new teaching” incredibly traditional in some cases because of the intensity and pervasiveness of assessment hoops that schools, teachers and students need to jump through.


  4. Emma – good point. Writers of Building Bulletins should be assigned to Class 9C with only tea to drink for at least a week before they being allowed to publish.


  5. Adam,

    Yes I would agree with you too and would raise two other points: first, in an indoor context it fascinates me how similar schools are around the world. We could pretty much show both children and adults a photo of a classroom from anywhere in the world and I guess they would spot what it is! And that’s only partly down to design; it probably has more to do with the act of teaching and the way teachers lay out their work space, furniture and walls.

    Secondly, although the role of the outdoors in mainstream education guidance (in the English system at least) seems to have been marginalised (again) we should not forget that at least 20% of a school day is given over to those freely-chosen playtime/break time/lunchtime periods which, despite assertions to the contrary, I would suggest is still a legitimate part of the teaching day.

    Yup, one to watch all right!




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