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News archive - July/August 2018

DfE should involve architects more in estate planning, says top designer

DfE should involve architects more in estate planning, says top designer

The Department for Education is not doing enough to make full use of architects in maximising the use of space in school estates, says a leading schools architect.

Amir Ramezani, Director, Avanti Architects, recently told delegates at a Westminster Forum Event: “Over the last few years the role of the designer has been marginalised in some quarters, which has been to the detriment of gaining greater efficiency in school estates. I maintain that a designer can often bring creativity to unlock a problem or address strategic issues that could have very positive impacts on school operations beyond what could be imagined at the outset.”

Addressing the issue of land shortages and their constricting influence on building new schools, Ramezani said:”Where there are constraints on land use designation or local pressures to avoid development, often the solution is about unlocking the potential for a site. In Hackney we’ve introduced the principle of mixed use development, mainly with housing, but also other uses. These solutions are inherently more complex, but produce better land yields and the ability to top up funding for schools.”

One example of this approach, he said, is New Regents College in Shoreditch where Avanti is delivering an Alternative Provision school with residential development and commercial space (see feature pp 18-19). “This is a mix of low, mid and high rise development with the school at two storeys and residential development in the form of air rights defined by a street block at seven storey and a tower at 29 storeys. This tight knit development employs a number of strategic ways to minimise the impact of one use over another.”

Ramezani said that many school estates are developed in an ad hoc fashion, as and when funds become available. “There is no consideration of a holistic master plan for the site. In many cases the result is poor quality buildings in the wrong place that add to the burden of lifecycle and maintenance for the school. In such situations a full understanding of asset management and the role of master planning become fundamental to ensure school sites retain coherence and avoid problems arising in the future.”

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