The Brockley School project is a collaboration between the architect Anuschka Kutz / offsea, the University of Brighton and Brockley Primary School, a local primary school in the Borough of Lewisham, London. The project started in September 2007 as an integrated life project for level 2/3 Interior Architecture Studio 3. It then expanded into a CETLD funded student-led design project taking the format of an actual small-scale interior architecture project
The motivation for this project derives from the opportunity for the local community, in this case the children of a London Primary School, to benefit from spatial initiatives developed within the university framework. Students in Architecture / Interior Architecture commonly place their student project in real contexts / buildings, but rarely have the opportunity to engage with a real client. One of the core aims of this project was to bring the future Interior Architect in closer contact with those who use space, and to introduce staff and pupils of the London primary school to the field of Interior Architecture. This allowed the students to study not only the physical aspects of space but also its social and cultural dimensions, bringing the Interior Architecture students closer to those who are at the receiving end of architectural design - commonly known as ‘the user’. To replace this abstract term with something more tangible, we worked very closely with the children and staff at Brockley Primary School to research their needs, ideas and dreams, allowing the students to form a much more personal and in-depth understanding of life in a primary school.
Usable atmospheres was the working title for the year, pointing on one hand to the working method and the close engagement with the client, but also circumscribing the fact that anything usable inevitably evokes a spatial atmosphere, and that space could be created and designed by defining this atmosphere.
Intensive creative workshops with pupils and staff in the school, especially with Fiona Whitfield’s Year 5 class, allowed the students to exchange ideas and find out how the children / staff experience the school, what they like or dislike about parts of the school, whether they enjoy using certain spaces more than others, etc. This produced an archive of knowledge which allowed our students to read beyond the conventional codes of a building; the hallway was no longer just a space to get from A to B, but a place to exchange toys and stories / a “tower” hovering above the playground to “check-out” what was going on outside / a welcoming breathing space during time-out, etc.
The students were then challenged to creatively interpret ideas, tackling the definition of school as such and how spatial design could foster and aid a learning environment that would differ from the rather institutionalized spatial and social coding inscribed into the building of Brockley Primary School at present. Each student developed a brief and programme of ambition, which was worked out in a detailed architectural design proposition.
After a year-long engagement with the school we developed the aspiration to leave behind a physical trace for the school children as a final piece to our dialogue. A group of Interior Architecture students successfully bid for a £2,000 CETLD fund (Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Design) to intensify the engagement with Brockley Primary School in a student led design project. The project team, consisted of Lettie McCall, Tessy Kettel and Dawn Pirie (all now graduates of Interior Architecture), tutored and mentored by Anuschka Kutz.
The design that emerged for the school is an innovative furniture landscape. It derived from a series of workshops with the children from Brockley Primary School and constitutes a creative interpretation of various observations made and stories given by the children. The design team developed 3 pieces that aim to create a sense of envelopment at several points along an internal corridor, enabling the children to inhabit and use the space without feeling exposed and vulnerable. The geometry of the furniture installation took quite abstract forms that derived from working with the children’s proportions and creating surfaces that would accommodate many different positions. It was intended to be relatively ambiguous so as to allow the children to interpret the pieces themselves and engage imaginatively in their own way. The paintwork played an important part in integrating the pieces with the wall and evoking the sense of enclosure and envelopment.
We hope that this usable architectural installation helps to transform a rather institutionalized corridor into a more creative and imaginative space to enjoy within the school, which we hope will impact positively upon their learning environment and inspire the children to be actively involved in the use of space. As the design does not prescribe the use of this furniture but rather enables the children to discover its use they will hopefully take ownership of this furniture piece by defining its purposes through their active creativity. A Thank You goes to the design team, Lettie McCall, Tessy Kettel and Dawn Pirie, who worked tired less to realize this project and to Barbara Smith, Head Teacher and Fiona Whitfield, Arts Co-oridinator and Year 5 teacher from Brockley Primary School.