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Standardised designs can help meet school building need

The Department for Education’s recent report estimates that the number of primary school pupils nationally will increase by around 9 per cent and secondary school pupils by 12 per cent in the next four years.

As The School Places Challenge report published by Scape has estimated, this will mean the equivalent of two new schools being completed per day from now up to 2020.

If these predictions are to be believed, the DfE and the construction industry will have a massive job to keep the nation’s children supplied with sufficient school places.

The scale of this challenge questions the way schools should be funded, procured, designed and built, as well as putting a spotlight on the industry’s capacity to deliver and how our planning system would cope.

Why modular works

The processes that go into making a school building are continually evolving and increasingly need to reflect the way we make many consumer products if we are to achieve the output required at the necessary level of quality.

Repeatable and modular designs are at the core of much of the industrial design processes used today.

Standardising components and engineering the making of a product into a process of assembly provides consistent outcomes, along with other benefits of repeatability such as reduced time and cost.

This system allows the buyer to customise their purchase, through colour and optional extras, and customer feedback drives a cycle of innovation that improves and hones a product’s performance over a period of time.

Schools for the future

When considering this, however, we must not forget that school buildings are not handheld objects but part of our physical and social landscape, rooted in communities that make them what they are.

How these future schools look, feel and perform will undoubtedly shape learning and, in turn, the futures of the children and adults that will use them. That is why architects and designers will have their part to play and are in the best position to demonstrate the value of good design.

“Digital prototypes will allow better management of cost and risk to help contractors manage and deliver school buildings more effectively”

The Education Funding Agency is working hard to solve this problem against a tide of demand using modular building solutions and encouraging lean processes in traditional construction that give ‘more for less’. This ethos should be applauded.

This methodology, combined with a complementary approach to BIM, will allow for high-quality client engagement and decision-making as well as early and more robust testing of environmental performance.

Digital prototypes will also allow better management of cost and risk against emerging designs to help contractors manage and deliver school buildings more effectively.

An approach that is more standardised and brings more predictable environmental outcomes is to be commended, but must not be devoid of the essential aspects of good school design that encourage high-quality education and community-wide engagement.

It is up to the commissioners and designers of our future built environment to decide whether it will become the norm.

Anthony Langan is a director and education sector lead at AHR

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