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It’s the usual problem with architects

They think they’re societal entrepreneurs, radicals and revolutionaries even. Instead of the folk paid to make sure buildings don’t fall down:

Architects HLM, based in Aldgate, designed the school paid for by the Welsh Government. At the time the company said: “The new school will improve the social and cultural well-being of its users and facilitate a larger range of different learning requirements, intertwining both social and educational environments – a school for boys and girls to thrive.”

All lovely and open plan and collaborative and….

London-based architects designed the “sustainable communities for learning” school. It has large open balconies around a central “heart space” of dining hall, main hall and terraced courtyard.

But the design has been blamed for violence – with 136 exclusions at the 1,100-pupil school since term began in September.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) said the open-plan design was contributing to poor behaviour.

Debra Thomas, interim head teacher at the school, admitted that it was “painful” to say that the “design of the building is quite a big issue”.

Large open space areas become colonised by gangs of feral teenagers.

Surprise, eh?

20 thoughts on “It’s the usual problem with architects”

  1. It was clearly designed to give the children a broader based education which will give them greater career choices in later life…

  2. As I’ve lived and worked in a variety of architect designed buildings over the years (most of which leaked when it rained), I firmly believe no architect should be allowed to foist an “innovative” design on the public unless they’ve lived/worked in such a design for at least an entire year.

  3. Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon had a lot going for it.

    Bentham conceived the basic plan as being equally applicable to hospitals, schools, sanatoriums, and asylums.

  4. Why is it, that these architects design the modernist buildings they do, claim that they are beautiful and practical, then go home to their 16th century cottage, which hasn’t got a straight line in it?

  5. AtC:

    Excellent point. Near where we used to live in the Sussex Weald was a very striking “Bauhaus” style mansion perched on a ridge. It was intended as a bold striking statement of modernism, and was called “Dragons”. The Pevsner architectural guide points out that it leaked from the outset, and has needed much upgrading to keep it habitable. Next door is a later building, a traditional neo-regency design with no problems at all, called “St George’s”.

  6. In first year at Secondary School we had a project to design a school building. I designed something that was a large circle, a ring of a dozen or so classrooms with an outdoor space in the middle.

    Years later I realised I’d invented the Panopticon!

  7. Bloke in North Dorset

    I see very little difference between that brand new Pencoedtre school and my old school built in 1960.

    Which in turn looks not too far off the comp I went to in Pickering.

  8. I’ve only used an architect once. She subcontracted the roof beam design to a structural engineer and sent me his bill as an unexpected “extra”. Very annoying as simple trussed rafters would have been cheaper and easier to build with, plus the structural calculations for them would be free and they wouldn’t need supporting beams. Next she added the roof support beams specified by the engineer to her drawings and got them running front to back instead of side to side. On checking the plans I found she had placed a doorway into an upstairs room in the middle of the chimney stack. Finally she got the planning permission fees wrong. Fortunately the planning department returned the excess. Quotes from builders were massively higher than she had indicated. In the end I paid her off, binned her plans and drew my own bigger, better and easier to build. I got it built for roughly half the price of the quotes for her design.

    Architects, lawyers and wealth managers are on my list of “professionals” to avoid at all costs. Sadly I can’t put doctors on that list. Accordingly doctors are on my “use with extreme caution and double check everything they say” list.

  9. Re Andy. f’s comment:

    We had a not dissimilar experience in France. We’d bought a rather nice small “manoir” – about an acre of land and perhaps 1500 square feet, arranged as two rooms per floor with central staircase; two floors plus converted attic where the rooms were smaller due to roof slope.

    All very fine indeed except the ground floor had no toilet and so with an eye to advancing age and creakiness we decided we had to add a single-story extension to the place, making it T-shaped on the ground floor. Nice young architect in a nearby town. Chatted, saying we wanted to match the current structure (half-timbered with brick infill) and we wanted the budget to be such and such (less than we were prepared to pay; a margin is always useful). We signed the contract after giving him prints from the 3-D model to show what we wanted.. He drew up the plans, consulting with local contractors to confirm pricing; one of the contractors was the carpenter we’d used a lot – but the architect didn’t know that. So the drawings came in, and the estimate was – with the roof not yet estimated – 2x our quoted budget.

    He’d been telling the contractors “eh, give yourselves a bit of slack; these are rich Americans who have too much money”

    So we cancelled the project on the spot.

    Turns out a nearby vendor of rather nice aluminum conservatories reckoned one of his customizable products could do the job, and quoted a price in line with our budget, and the end result – tho hardly matching the rest of the house – looks damned good and works well.

    No more architects!

  10. jgh’s school looks a lot like my one in Tooting.
    The difference being that it had a flat roof. That leaked.

    The school was an amalgamation of a grammar school (Bec) and a Sec Mod (Hillcroft ). Bec had a rather fine Edwardian buiding, with stone stairs and thick walls. The Sec Mod was a 1960s glass building that was freezing in winter and boiling hot in Summer ( and the roof leaked ).

    As the rolls decreased, the school sold off the Edwardian building that was demolished and turned into flats and upgrdade the modern school ( fixing the roof, I hope ). When I was there in the late 1970s/early 80s the roll was 1600 boys. Now it is 900.

  11. Architects doing nothing to sway me from my opinion that they will be the first group of people I send to the gulag for re-education when I become dictatrix.

  12. Architects aren’t even the people “paid to make sure buildings don’t fall down”. They’re the people paid to make buildings look pretty. Structural engineers are the people paid to make sure the building doesn’t fall down.

  13. It’s not really a problem with architects but with politicians. I’m sure that Regus and McDonalds get some wankers who want a Stirling Prize knocking on their door, but they tell them to fuck off. They hire architects who will give them working offices/restaurants. Which mostly means tweaking what’s done before to the surroundings, and if there’s any experimentation, it’s very small.

    I mean, the stuff that a senior school has to do is the same, isn’t it? You need classrooms, a few of which are set up for science, somewhere for assembly/concerts/gym, somewhere for lunch, toilets, staff rooms/offices. Out of the thousands of schools we have, figure out what works as a building, and make that a template everyone can use.

  14. WB

    Yeah but they soon abandon these templates. It is just a feature of modern local government. A new authority has to make its mark and thus what went before is automatically obsolete. It is the curse that has haunted this country since the war.

    Take my old school as a for instance. I was a bit wrong earlier on and the school was built in the 1920s – but it followed a format laid down by the Schools Boards in the late victorian period. This consisted of thick walls between classrooms ( so that we couldn’t be interrupted by the riot next door ), tall ceilings for air circulation and large windows. The windows were set up high enough so that the kids couldn’t look out and had a clever mechanism so that rain could not get in but air could still get out. stone steps and strategicaly placed toilets and offices. we also had an adjacent sports field and pavilion. Local primary schools were built on the same model at the same time and are still going.

    The downside I guess is that these brick monoliths are rather inflexible and cannot easily be adapted. But at lest the roof didn’t leak.

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