Building a ‘box’: Discourses of School Design in the UK

By Olga den Besten, John Horton, Peter Kraftl and Peter Adey.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

There is currently considerable activity in the UK directed towards the reconstruction or refurbishment of secondary and primary schools. In this context, the paper looks closely at various discourses that evolve around school architecture. The omnipresent discourses at the national level are those of and around Building Schools for the Future (BSF) - a major government school building programme. BSF is presented and perceived as an ambitious project set out to bring radical changes for the better not only to material conditions of schooling, but also to the concept of secondary education itself. However, as the “first waves” of BSF are carried out, reports are emerging in the media that express disappointment with the project. At the local level, we have found, through an in-depth ethnographic research in several British schools, an array of discourses that contribute to the complex decision-making process of creating an individual school building. Such discourses, in which school staff, pupils, architects, consultants or local authorities are engaged, carry with them very concrete implications for the design of material school spaces. For example, a discourse of heritage brought in by the architects in one of our case-studies, resulted in a particular – rectangular – shape of the future school building, which would be congruent with the industrial past of the area where the school is situated. The paper also shows how the national BSF discourses are translated to the local level.

Keywords: School Architecture, Design Process, Discourse, Building Schools for the Future

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 5, pp.95-104. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.130MB).

Dr. Olga den Besten

Post-doctoral Research Assistant, Centre for Children and Youth, University of Northampton, Northampton, UK

Dr. Olga den Besten has worked on various research projects in Russia, France, Germany and England, and is the author/co-author of several articles and book chapters on gendered biographical patterns and strategies, as well as children’s emotional experience of their urban areas in Berlin and Paris. Olga is currently working at the Centre for Children and Youth, the University of Northampton, UK, on the project “Realising participatory design with children and young people: A case-study of design and refurbishment in schools”. Her research interests include school design, urban studies, participation, memory and biography, and qualitative research methods.

Dr. John Horton

Lecturer, Centre for Children and Youth, University of Northampton, Northampton, UK

Dr. John Horton is a full-time Lecturer/Researcher in the Centre for Children and Youth at the University of Northampton, UK. He has extensive experience of academic and policy-oriented research which seeks to engage children and young people in the development and design of everyday environments.

Dr. Peter Kraftl

Lecturer, Department of Geography, Leicester University, Leicester, UK

Dr. Peter Kraftl is Lecturer in Human Geography at Leicester University, UK. He has published over twenty articles and book chapters on children’s geographies, utopia and geographies of architecture. He has worked on numerous research projects exploring children’s health, schooling, participation and play. He is currently preparing a co-authored book about cultural geographies.

Dr. Peter Adey

Lecturer, School of Physical and Geographical Sciences, Keele University, Keele, UK

Dr. Peter Adey is a Lecturer in the School of Physical and Geographical Sciences and the Institute for Law, Politics and Justice at Keele University, Keele, UK. He has published peer-reviewed articles on the topics of mobility, security and design. Two books are forthcoming in 2009 and 2010.


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