1960 - Comprehensive School


The 1950s and 60s witnessed a massive expansion in the school building programme in Britain, enacted in a spirit of optimism and equal opportunity for all. Throwing out the formal, hierarchical layout usually found in older schools, architects created areas where specific subjects could be taught - science block, CDT block and so on. With the rise in the school-age population, however, even these were soon proved to be inadequate, and classes often had to be taught in 'temporary' overspill accommodation that had soon become embarrassingly permanent. What design problems might be encountered in a building like the one above?

The 1944 Education Act ordained that 'public education shall be organised in three progressive stages to be known as primary education, secondary education and further education.' Some local authorities adapted the two-tier system of grammar and secondary modern schools; others went for a fully comprehensive approach without selection at age 11. From the early 1950s onwards, massive new comprehensive and secondary modern schools were bffilt in many areas, often designed around simple cubes and rectangles in the Modernist style. They had facilities undreamed of in older schools - fully equipped science labs, for instance, and commodious home economics rooms and craft workshops - and many were sited amid acres of well-mown playing fields. To paraphrase Le Corbusier, the impression was often of 'a machine for teaching in'. Ironically, with all this free space available, the buildings themselves were often boxy low-rise structures resembling blocks of flats or offices adapted for educational use. They looked as if they been designed to accommodate the maximum number of students in a cramped inner-city site, not a 30-acre green-field location. Stacking classrooms one on top of another may have made for a compact structure that was relatively easy to administer but did little to minimise noise levels and, in some cases, the design created major circulation problems. The school in the illustration has five floors of classrooms arranged one each side of common stair­wells. But instead of a few dozen teachers moving between classes, at the end of each lesson the classrooms empty and several hundred children jostle their way up and down those narrow staircases and along the ground-floor corridor that connects them. Much thought obviously went into the theory of education in the post-war years but, from a design standpoint, one is left to question whether the powers-that-be fully considered the needs of the people who would use such buildings.

1959 – University

1989 - Craft School