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

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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 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?”

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 learningspacesportal.edu.au). 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”

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”

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”

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”

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…”

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”

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?”

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?”

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”

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…”

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?”

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”

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”

“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”

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.”