A design for life… and for learning in classes of future

THE days of schools with long corridors, high windows and classrooms with four walls could be numbered. A futuristic exhibition of school design has sparked a new blueprint for how education institutions, and other public-service buildings, should be built in future.

Innovative concepts on show at Senses of Place: Building Excellence, opened by education secretary Fiona Hyslop this week, were influenced by pupils and teachers from across Scotland, who revealed their dream school buildings to architects.

One idea at the exhibition in Glasgow moves away from the traditional Victorian edifice, with windows too high to distract pupils and neat rows of classrooms.

Instead it envisages a "village" style concept of education establishment with outdoor spaces.

JM Architects and LWD Design worked with children with special needs and educationalists in North Lanarkshire to completely rethink the concept of a school building.

Architect Sam Booth believes building separate classrooms under an Eden Project– style roof would allow the spaces between to be used as additional teaching areas rather than the dead corridors that currently exist. He says: "We are hoping to get rid of the idea of corridors altogether. They are anonymous and have no other function than being a route to somewhere else."

After speaking to children and their teachers the architects believe the people who use the school should feel a sense of belonging.

He adds: "We recognise that it is their space and they can take ownership of that space and have a house in that village."

In a fresh take on the classroom, Stirling children helped architecture firm 3DReid to create a design with the theme of creative play in mind.

They envisaged a hexagonal classroom with windows low on the walls to create transparency, both for the pupils inside and community outside, and to link with the outdoor environment.

The six walls allow for greater storage and displays which allow pupils to show their work and take pride in their efforts, raising their sense of self-worth and aspiration.

Stackable furniture allows the space to be used flexibly and the extra walls allow the room to be divided into smaller areas for group activities.

Neutral colours on the walls allow the children's work to stand out, and musical laser beams encourage youngsters to learn about rhythm. Another scientific design features a touchscreen desk on which pupils can access the web and research chemical elements by dragging different elements together with their hands.

A "cognitive sculpture" (a hoop with hundreds of plastic threads) is lifted enthusiastically by children at the launch of the exhibition.

The idea is to help youngsters understand the interconnecting elements in science and to enliven the schools labs children previously thought were "boring".

Another design, looking at large spaces, explores making greater use of assembly halls, with seating that can be pulled out of the walls and furniture that can be transformed from seating into staging.

Nick Barley – director of the Lighthouse on Glasgow's Mitchell Lane, which led the design process and is now displaying the exhibition – says the project gave parents, teachers and pupils the opportunity to have a real say in the future design of their schools: "Although we live, work, learn and play in buildings people still rarely get practically involved in their design.

"Working together with the architects they have generated some terrific ideas."

He says allowing people to a engage with architects would prove a lasting legacy of the project, adding: "The handbook, which we have produced as an outcome of the workshops to date, will now help other groups have a hands-on role in the future of their buildings."

The Scottish Government commissioned the Lighthouse, Scotland's national architecture and design centre, to help increase communities' say in how schools are designed, and Hyslop insists the Scottish Government is committed to improving learning by improving buildings: "It just shows what creative and bright spaces you can have in buildings.

"It is about learning and teaching and how we develop the buildings and schools of tomorrow, and the creativity and choice young people can bring to the design stage. It is about thinking differently."

Children from Stirling, West Lothian, North Lanarkshire, Orkney and Argyll and Bute contributed ideas under themes such as active play, additional support needs and science.

Project co-ordinator Anne Cunningham says: "At a time when the public in Scotland is to be given a much greater say in planning proposals, it (the blueprint] offers a template for how public consultation should be put into practice across the full range of planning decisions from major public developments and hospitals to open spaces, community centres and housing."

&#149 The Senses of Place: Building Excellence exhibition is at the Lighthouse until 13 April.