Friday, 30 May 2014

Liven up learning with a lick of paint

We're delighted that the Times Education Supplement (TES) has published our article Liven up learning with a lick of paint.  The publication date is 30th May 2014 and it's in tes-professional as the Leadership article, pp40-41.

Liven up learning with a lick of paint

From colour to lighting there are many inexpensive ways to revitalise tired classrooms.

Some schools are blessed with fantastic modern buildings where every breath of air is choreographed to maximize learning potential. For the most part, though, schools have to make do with what they have had for many years: disjointed, often sub-standard buildings that are a detriment rather than an assistant to learning.

Bringing these old buildings back to life is generally seen as an impossibility - there simply isn't the cash in schools to do the crucial construction work. However, in reality, there are things schools can do to enhance the working environment without the need for mountains of cash. Here are just four of the many things you can try.


Acoustics can be optimised to make classrooms more productive environments. Here's how:
  • Lining the walls with large display panels. These can be made from MDF with a cork face, finished in felt. Cork has very good acoustic properties and can work as a versatile pin board for display. 
  • Covering hard flooring with carpet and underlay.
  • Acoustic ceiling panels allow lofty classroom spaces to remain high, keeping their sense of space. 
  • Acoustic wall panels should also be considered where display space is not required. They should be applied to the front or back walls of the classroom (not the side walls).
Acoustic design might seem like a black art, but there are some simple checks that can be made on the performance of your classroom. With a smartphone decibel app, measure the noise levels during class. If the readings regularly peak at 65dB or above, consider acoustic treatment.

To help maintain the energy and vitality of a productive classroom environment, the following points might be considered when establishing an electric lighting design strategy:

  • The main light fittings should be set out to give an even distribution of light across working surfaces. 
  • To supplement the main lighting, it is worth considering a secondary set of light fittings that can highlight special activity areas or display walls 
  • Light fittings should be selected and positioned so that they do not cause glare or shadows, with the light source as inconspicuous as possible. 
  • With combinations of fittings, it is important not to create too much light contrast across adjacent areas, which could cause eyestrain, headaches or fatigue. 

Typical school classrooms have a high degree of glazing. Although this is good for natural light, it can prove problematic for overheating in the summer and excessive heat loss in the winter. The following points should be considered when addressing a classroom's ventilation and heating strategy:

If the classroom has an overheating problem during summer, the area of glass can be reduced and the ventilation provision increased to remove excess heat. Natural ventilation may often be the most practical solution; vents can be added, some of which should ideally be positioned at high level to encourage the air to mix before it circulates to working level. Such vents are usually part of the window glazing system.

Ventilation panels can be sized and retrofitted in to existing window openings to improve the ventilation performance of your classroom. There are several options to consider, depending upon budget and the environmental requirements of the room:

  • The simplest and cheapest solution is to use the high level opening windows in your classroom if you have them.
  • Secure ventilation panels can remain open over night in the summer to allow classrooms to be cool and comfortable for the following morning. They usually have a set of fixed louvres to the outside face. Schools built with a high thermal mass (i.e. made with lots of concrete and brick), might benefit from night-time ventilation
  • Ventilation panels can have an insulated door on the inside, which helps retain the heat in the classroom when closed in winter.
  • If noise from the outside is an issue, ventilation panels can be specified with acoustic louvres to help reduce this problem. 

Colour has a direct relationship with energy use. Black materials absorb 20 times more natural light energy than white and gains heat in the process. Light colours generally make a room look bigger and dark colours normally make a room look smaller. Choice of colours plays a significant role in the psychological balance of a classroom environment.

  • Don't use white because it is too harsh. Instead use near-whites that are much more gentle on the eye and work well with lighting strategies. 
  • It is recommended to keep the main surfaces of a classroom, walls and ceiling a light or near-white colour, so to keep the room feeling calm.
  • Blue is the prime learning colour, intellectual in its effect. Strong blues can help to focus the mind and soft blues aid concentration. The optimum learning colour scheme might be a dominant blue with a secondary yellow, or the other way round for variation. 
  • A classroom space should never be a single colour. We all need a balance of wavelengths.
There are many more strategies you can implement affordably to improve your building without knocking it down and starting again or starting a complete refurbishment. Try these four and build from there.

You can find more on this in our earlier post, 10 ways to revitalise your classroom on a budget.  If you would like to discuss a coordinated approach to classroom refurbishment with us, please drop us a line.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Your Competitive Advantage

Linda Roberts and Louise Harrison run designed2win (d2w), a consultancy focused on, amongst other things, helping Architects to maximise their chances of success in the competition process.  For many small and aspiring practices, competitions can be a valuable method to gain exposure, win new work and demonstrate specialist skills and innovation but unfortunately the market place is full of such small, aspiring practices seeking to get ahead.  Linda and Louise both have over 20 years experience of organising architectural competitions which they gained when they headed up the RIBA's competition office.  They are in a perfect position to help.  Between them they have organised and attended over 100 competition assessments – their clients include Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital, the Welsh Assembly, Urban Splash, BRE, as well as over 30 different Local Authorities.  Working with the British Antarctic Survey, they also ran the competition for Halley VI, a competition which is very close to my heart.

With this experience, unique knowledge and insight Linda and Louise can advise how you can stand out from the crowd.  They have been working with young practices, honing their skills in three key areas - open design competitions, expressions of interest and competition interviews.  Here are some of their inside tips:

General advice
Be economical, precise and focused with your workload.  Examine the tone and requirements of the brief and analyse how your submission should respond.  This is one of the key areas d2w can help with.  Judging the brief is a tricky issue.  How you interpret it can make or break your submission chances.

How you relay this to your design responses is another fundamental issue.  Is there a novel approach that will help your proposals stand out from the crowd?  Will it back-fire?  Nobody wants to spend long hours on a submission to miss the mark, which is where d2w can help.

Open design competitions
How to detect key issues in the competition brief is critical.  Then, knowing how far to develop your responses is just as important.  When should your submission be prescriptive and detailed, and when should it be loose and enigmatic?  These are some key issues d2w examine in their workshops.

Many open competitions request presentation boards and a written document.  Knowing how to manage these to convey your ideas and messages effectively is something they can help with.  How you set out your work is vital.  A combination of presentation techniques can help to make your submission stand out.  Linda and Louise have attended countless assessments and have supported the judging teams for hundreds of competitions and know how this can work. 

Expressions of interest
A key problem for small architectural practices is how to compete with the big guns when company accounts and business size are assessed against your ability to handle their projects.  One method from my own experience for Halley VI was to team up with a larger organisation as the lead consultant.  For projects of a technical nature requiring a multi-disciplinary approach this can be effective.  But this is only part of the solution - d2w can advise how to convey this arrangement as a winning working relationship which can capture the interest and enthusiasm of the client and judges.  

If you have a set number of pages to express a design response, make sure they tell your story effectively.  d2w can advise on how to convey your message in this process. 

Competition interviews
Be prepared.  Confidence is key, but to establish team confidence, the preparation needs to be effective and thorough.  Knowing what not to take can be as important as knowing what to take.  Selecting team members and knowing how to interact in the interview environment is critical.  Being sharp and slick doesn’t come without the correct practice, which is what d2w can advise on.

Overall, be economical with your work to hit the target as efficiently and as effectively as possible.  Don’t waste precious time.

This is just a taste of the areas Linda and Louise cover in their workshops.   If you need some expert help with your killer competition submission, contact d2w.

To illustrate one point, Peter Cook's sketches for the Abedian School of Architecture competition proved to be a point of interest for the submission.  He tells the story in his UCL lecture.