May be its my age, or the fact I have just had a birthday, but having just read the current addition of Building Design I think I must have slipped back in time. The design of schools has gone back full circle to standardised designs. prefabrication in other words, where the building ceases to relate to the site, the individual needs of the school, or the other school buildings that remain. We have been there before, it did not work then, I see no reason for it to be the answer now. Why can't people see its not the Architects that make school building expensive.
You can see from our portfolio we have through the years designed quite a few school buildings from primary to comprehensive to secondary schools. All were designed to suit unique sites, mostly for the local authorities. They were designed to specific briefs and were governed by a complicated book of rules setting out required facilities and areas linked to funding. If new school facilities were required an architect was selected on the basis of competition. This would usually mean a local practice was selected.
Then came PFI. The private Finance Initiative, or a way of procuring schools now and paying later. Wrap up the school design as a small part of a package including running and maintaining the school for the next 25 years or so. This is now a deal in the tens of millions of pounds. Get private finance interested and sign away your soul. The balance sheet is unaffected now and the taxpayers will foot the bill for years to come. The small local practices can no longer afford the tender process so drop out and schools are designed by a few specialist practices who must satisfy the needs of the lenders ahead of the 'client' ie the school.
Next came the Building Schools for the Future programme where we were promised that every secondary school in the country would be rebuilt. It sounded too good to be true and so it has proved. The procurement process led to relatively few practices being selected to redesign the wheel. PFI continued and consortia based around large construction companies entered the fray. Whilst we are happy to design a single school we do not have the capacity to run several projects concurrently. Also the cost incurred in tendering in such a way is prohibitive to a small practice.
Now all of that is to be abandoned. The government announced last week that all new projects will be based on one of six standardised template school designs. God help us.
I predict now that the next big change in about ten years or so will be to revert to localism. Individual buildings, traditionally procured and tendered for and designed by local practices in direct liaison with local procurers, or am I being too radical.
Our last educational project if anyone is interested is illustrated on our web site. See Richard Huish College in Taunton. A casualty of the College Building procurement scheme which failed spectacularly due to lack of funding. Appointed directly by the college we were able to design, gain approval for, tender and build a £1.5m new low energy teaching facility in just 13 months on time and budget.