Monday, 14 March 2016

Dark Corridors

I was taken with this school image recently: the Hallway of Light, from the Church of the Good Shepard / Episcopal Day school in Augusta, USA.

It certainly is very dramatic, atmospheric and sculptural - it has presence, it establishes a mood...  but I just had to wonder, how realistic is it in a high school with multiple hundreds of students moving around.  The opportunities for passive supervision seem to be hindered and frankly it is potentially dangerous.  I am certain that it could not pass inspection in the UK with it's strict daylighting / safeguarding  requirements.  Who knows what could be happening down at the far end?

A colleague suggested that maybe it was a staff only area.  Whilst I don't know, I am sure that this is not the case but if so, how can some much design be put into a school in an area that students don't access - who is the building for?.

Dramatic - but frankly not a suitable design response for a school I suggest!

Under stair spaces - use them!

A good use of under stair areas

It is always amazing how often I visit brand new schools where the area underneath stair cases is not considered.  They are rarely used well and most frequently become a wasted space where junk gets thrown. There seem to be three normal strategies.

a) Pretend that they are not there and just leave them as a totally unusual space where mischief can often happen.  These areas are usually out of sight and a magnet for potential misbehaviour.  In the worst case there are low barriers of what look like scaffolding poles to keep people out.  All this does is create a very silly, ugly and wasted area.  In the photograph below from a school with a very sculptural wooden stair case in the middle of a large commons area, there is real wasted space underneath, guarded by a low rail.

A real waste of space

b) The next strategy seems to revolve filling them in for storage or cleaners cupboards - at least that is a better solution... but not ideal

c) Thirdly, and most usefully, put the stairs where they can be seen and passively supervised - and then use the space for learning - creating a small area for quiet social space, learning intervention  or small group work.  With carefully designed stairs, and considering all the H&S issues, these spaces have the potential to enhance the school environment.

It's a pity that more schools do not think about the potential benefits of these areas from the very beginning.