Prefab Schools

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.

WHY USE AN ARCHITECT

"Whether you are planning to build a new house, or alter or extend your present home, to employ a builder or just do it yourself it makes sense to employ an architect."

I guess you would expect me to say that, after all I have the qualifications that mean I can call myself an Architect and I need to make a living, but I can only do so because some people see it makes sense to employ me. There are four principle reasons why.

1 I can bring into reality what my clients can only dream about.

2 I can save you time

3 I can save you money or make your money go farther.

4 I take the stress of design and construction.

What an architect can do for you

Why use an architect? An architect will understand your hopes and anxieties, and will help you translate your vision into reality.

Imagination Whether you are looking for tradition or innovation, boldness or understatement, an architect can lift your project out of the ordinary. Anyone can alter a building. It takes an expert to do it with flair, imagination and style.

Value for money An architect can find the extra light and space you didn't know you had, suggest materials you hadn't thought of and help you find the right builder at the right price.

Freedom from worry All architects in the UK must comply with the Architects Act and register with theArchitects' Registration Board. Registration depends on achieving recognised education qualifications and work experience – no-one else is entitled to use the name architect in relation to their business or professional work. Architects are construction professionals with knowledge of the industry, its working methods and standards. An architect can guide you through the complex web of legislation, regulations and contractual obligations. Your architect can also monitor the construction work through to completion and administer your contract with the builders.

Architects are trained problem solvers. They can show you how to enlarge your home so you won't have to move. Whatever your budget, architects can propose ways to get more for your investment than you imagined possible.

Working from home - the home office

This is my first ever venture into the world of blog so please excuse me as I find my way.

This topic was not the first on my list but in view of the extreme weather of the moment it seemed appropriate. Are you one of those people stuck at home because of snow, can't get out of your drive let alone the side road you live on? Or are you risking life and limb trying to get from home to office or are you like me, stuck in the beauty of the countryside because you forgot to buy snow tyres last summer when they were affordable? Sure I had the foresight to park my wife's car on the main road but it is a mile and a half walk uphill to escape from our village and just not pleasant as temperatures drop to -14c. Are you loosing pay or having to take holiday in lieu because you can't get to the office?

Well actually I am ok because I have a home office, not a room in the house but a snug timber building, well appointed, cosy, and fully functional. My commute is all of 20m but enough to be out of the house in a place of work, away from the distractions of the family.

If you are self employed or have an employer who is amenable to home working the home office is a must. It is simply constructed from a kit of parts, well insulated and allowed under permitted development (so no planning permission required) if correctly designed and sited. Because they are not classed as habitable structures no building regulations are needed.

I have designed a number of one off timber framed and clad buildings for home office use, though of course they could simply be for recreational purposes, each tailor made and individual. I would like to design more, so if you are interested please contact me. I think the costs are favourable when compared to those produced by the specialist companies out there.