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.

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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”

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”

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”

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”

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?”

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”

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?”

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 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?”

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 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 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”