Monday, 14 March 2016
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!
A good use of under stair areas
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
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.