Ask the Expert: designing inspiring schools

Over 35 years, Hampshire County Council’s designers have established a national reputation for the quality of their public architecture and, in particular, their design of schools

Dec 9 2016

Inspiring schools

The County Council has a £300 million programme for schools, and by the end of this year it will have created more than 6,000 additional school places with a further 11,000 new school places by 2018.

So the design teams have their work cut out – but they’re also treating it as an opportunity to improve children’s experience at school. Strategic Manager for Design and Implementation, Bob Wallbridge, explains more.

Bob Wallbridge

Bob, and his colleagues in Property Services, have won numerous awards, local and national, for their inspirational school buildings. However, the comments from the people using the buildings are what mean the most.

“The school children, visitors and local communities tell us the buildings are a delight to use and we’re very proud of that. We have an excellent in-house team of designers; architects, interior designers, landscape architects, engineers, cost managers and other specialists, who have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in designing schools.

“This wide pool of expertise keeps us at the forefront of school design nationally. We’re lucky to have this capability in-house as we continue to design and build schools and meet the challenge of lower cost delivery and more diverse school governance. This is in the wider national context of uncertainty and reductions we are seeing in public spending – we have to design within these constraints shared across the public sector.”

“The environment that children learn in at school is our principal focus as it is a big factor in their level of engagement, wellbeing and attainment. So the layout of the school building itself is most important. In many schools, our innovative designs also make use of every inch of the site, for learning and play. We design welcoming, safe and flexible spaces; practical and comfortable classroom spaces for teachers to educate and children to learn in, with good daylight and natural ventilation. These spaces often open on to sheltered outdoor areas which are also carefully planned. We take a holistic approach aiming for long life, resilient and low-energy designs so that a school’s ecological footprint and maintenance and running costs will be sustainable and as low as possible.”

Westgate school

“In these times of scarcer resources, schools are becoming ever more highly valued within their local communities, and although not quite open 24/7 as yet, they are places where people come together and meet for social events and activities, often before and after the traditional school day. Having good spaces for this kind of use is a must nowadays as these foster a sense of place, belonging and cohesion within local communities. The children’s safety and security are key factors in this too. The school and its shared community spaces need to be accessible to all, and we work to make sure new schools are planned at the heart of new housing developments across Hampshire.”

Bob and his team are also being asked to expand and improve many existing schools and get more and more from the same site areas while, at the same time, driving costs down, and this can take some ingenuity. Each design also takes into account any specific needs of pupils at the school. Bob and his colleagues work closely with schools and education colleagues in developing shared design ideas, understanding the school’s ethos and values and continually benchmark their delivery costs.

“At Greenwood School, in Dibden Purlieu, which accommodates children who have special educational needs, we have replaced an existing series of modular l buildings with a whole new bespoke school. The layout was developed in close collaboration with Head Teacher Dominic Coburn, around a courtyard in which pupils can feel safe and nurtured. The new school was also relocated to the front of the site – this helped keep construction costs down, as the school could continue to operate in the old buildings until the new one was ready. The new building, in its wonderful woodland setting, now provides a much more welcoming and appropriate learning environment that is fit for the twenty first century.”

 “Another good example of how we work is at the Westgate School in Winchester. Again, we worked closely with the school and Head teacher, Paul Nicholson, adding 420 much needed new primary school places to their existing secondary school site. We identified and creatively reused a redundant part of the site for the new primary school provision. We designed this around a ‘village green’ concept, making a new campus model and making it the first ‘all-through’ school in Hampshire.”

The new building at Westgate School has recently received awards from the Civic Trust, Solent Design, and received the top prize for a public building by the Society for Public Architecture, Construction, Engineering and Surveying in 2016.