Architects are gearing up to bid for work designing a new generation of prefabricated schools.
BD has learned that a number of practices are working on templates in an attempt to pre-empt the government’s expected post-BSF move into standardisation.
The DfE’s Capital Review, led by executives from Dixons and Tesco, is expected to recommend that, in future, head teachers choose from a handful of templates specifying the design of buildings and their fittings. This could cut the time it takes to build a school from 18 months to 13 weeks and slash the cost by 30%.
Atkins, one of the first to get involved, has teamed up with contractor Willmott Dixon. The pair have several well-advanced designs, and the Department for Education is already directing clients their way.
Several other contractors such as Balfour Beatty and Laing O’Rourke are also believed to be working up templates.
Newcastle-based practice Space Group is developing its own version for a primary school that could be erected in six weeks for £1,200 per sq m.
Its executive Rob Charlton admitted it was a pragmatic solution that would never win the Stirling Prize but said the alternative was seeing architects being written out of school building entirely.
“We should embrace Michael Gove’s view of standardisation and look to learn from Tesco, Ikea and Dixons about how we can commoditise buildings,” he added.
Former RIBA president Sunand Prasad said: “I am not at all opposed to the idea that there can be repeats or templates, but I am opposed to the idea that you don’t take the site or the locality or the context into account.”
Stefan Jakobek, vice president and head of schools architecture at HOK London, agreed “great designers” could make the system work. “But it would be a tragedy if all the learning that has been gathered over recent years into what constitutes a great school is lost in an initiative that is driven by parsimony and make-do,” he said.
Architects fearful of a diminishing role in school building were dealt a further blow after it emerged that education secretary Michael Gove had again attacked them for getting rich at the expense of the public under BSF.
He told a free schools conference last weekend: “We won’t be getting Richard Rogers to design your school. We won’t be getting any ’award-winning architects’ to design it, because no-one in this room is here to make architects richer.”