Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Stairs: corners versus transparency versus cost

A really interesting discussion about stairs today (and it was really interesting believe it or not) during a design meeting for a new school in London. The ethos of the school is about transparency and high visibility, but some of the new school is in an old building that is to be refurbished. It has those old old stairs with lots of corners that many of us in the UK have worked with. It would add lots to the budget to replace the stairs (and most importantly, the solid wall between each flight), but the one thing they really prevent is the one thing everyone wants: transparency and openness.

It's a tough call - these old stair wells are not popular with most teachers, supervision is hard, they get very crowded and are often ugly. Many schools install CCTV to monitor them, but it is not ideal and supervision can become reactive. It is a real behaviour management issue.
Everyone understands our wish for stairs that provides the desired transparency, but if they are provided, it will be at the cost of something else. Every single member of the school community will use the stairs but only fleetingly... It's a tough call, but when you see schools that have visible stairs designed in, the issues become clearer. (see the photo below from The Halewood Centre for Learning in Knowsley).
Is it worth losing something major to get this part of the environment right? It is a real debating point... Those who have not worked in schools don't really understand the issue - but many teachers will now exactly what we are talking about.
It's really interesting .... but the decision is still not resolved .... the debate continues.......
The highly visible stairs in the Halewood Centre for Learning


Colin Campbell said...

Interesting debate, how about encouraging students to remove outdoor footwear and wear slippers/crocs - this can really have a calming effect with the way students move around. Also consider careful placement of sound absorbers to reduce the potential sound build up.

Gareth Long said...

Thanks for the comment - funnily enough we have raised this before, including in Knowsley. Some saw merit in the idea - others thought the idea bonkers. It can and does work though in some places.