A School for Growing Communities
July 27, 2020 \ Education
by Karen Nugent
“Primary school is probably the first public building we experience beyond our home. Our first steps beyond the safety of our family and into the world where we start to shape our idea of ourselves. It is hard to overstate the importance of the design of schools in shaping future generations. So what should shape these buildings?”
As child growing up in the seventies, the Little House on the Prairie was a strong influence on my idea of a school. The single roomed schoolhouse, rows of desks split by a central aisle, with its simple pitched roof, echoed the Fisher Price school I had played with as a toddler and wasn’t far from my father’s stories of going to school in rural County Down in the 1940s.
This mythical idea of the school room has long since been updated by waves of change in pedagogy and school design from the open air schools of the Netherlands, the post war move to more open plan schools or the millennial wave of mega schools, vast industrial sheds with big atria and bright colours. More recently we have seen the search for an exemplar model that can be stamped out repeatedly and economically. But might there be something worth returning to in the simple vernacular form of the old schoolhouse?
Schools need to nurture and challenge. Providing a familiar form, the double-pitched roof, gives children something they already recognise, a comforting base from which to grow. Rather than amplifying the form to accommodate the larger numbers in urban or suburban neighbourhoods night we multiply the barn to make a village? Like the simple cottages of a Scottish Clachan or Fermtoun that informed our work on Bute making new mini-settlements to reduce redundant dark steadings.