Design Matters

A project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

The project will investigate the effects of newly designed schools on their users, particularly students and teachers. This addresses an important policy issue but also has implications for architectural practice, educational theory and methodology.

The research, supported by RIBA and BCSE, is of particular and immediate policy importance. During the 2000s, the UK government invested heavily in the Building Schools for the Future and Academy programmes, commissioning a number of architect-designed new schools at relatively high cost. Since 2010 the policy rhetoric has shifted to the need for more standardised designs at much lower cost. Needless to say, large amounts of public money are at stake, and the findings are of international as well as national interest.

The research base for making such judgments is remarkably thin, on three fronts. First, there is insufficient clarity about how educational theory should underpin decisions in this area, in terms of informing both commissioners of new schools and the architects who will design them. Secondly, the empirical research base is very limited, regarding the importance of the visuo-spatial (place and space) in learning and teaching, and in the general creation of a suitable educational environment, and also regarding the effectiveness of newly designed schools. Current post-occupancy evaluations tend to be tightly focused on specific environmental issues such as energy use. Thirdly, the literature on research methods to tackle issues such as this is still relatively limited. While there is sufficient for us to undertake the project with confidence, we will undoubtedly be able to offer new insights for future researchers in what remains an under-researched field.