Clear Architects has enabled students at Woodford County High School For Girls to create bold and modern plans for a new art and design building at their Essex-based campus. By collaborating with the students as part of RIBA’s National Schools Programme, Clear helped them to develop their own fresh architectural approach to the school’s built environment.
Fostering architecture’s next generation
RIBA’s educational course offers the first nationwide architectural learning programme for schoolchildren. It aims to help students explore and understand the built environment, as well as its impact on the communities that inhabit it. The strategy creates partnerships between schools and design professionals, like Clear Architects, who can become RIBA Architecture Ambassadors. Designers then volunteer their services for free to deliver creative workshops to children between the ages of 4 and 18, fostering the skills and confidence involved in conversations that shape the built environment.
“Architectural education is something that we have a lot of interest in as a practice. We feel strongly that to ensure the future of the profession, young budding designers need to be invested in and encouraged,” says Alexa Kasim, Technical Director at Loughton-based Clear Architects.
According to Fiona MacDonald from RIBA, working with an industry professional offers students experience and expertise they wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. “At a time of cuts to cultural learning in schools, it is invaluable for children – in particular those who are perhaps less academic – to see how far their creative and practical skills can take them,” she says.
Alexa worked closely with James Mors, the practice’s Creative Director, to deliver multiple workshops to students at Woodford County High School, the first of which took place in 2016. The students were asked to re-imagine their school’s art department. They concentrated on developing ideas for how the space could be improved, as it often felt neglected compared to other departments in the school.
“We started off by showing some examples of unloved buildings and spaces around the world that people had made their own, turning them into much loved and successful spaces. We challenged the students to think big and not feel limited by their perceptions of what the school might spend on the work,” Alexa adds.
Clear Architects visited the school again to teach students how to use professional design software, including 3D Sketch Up, so they could create plans for a new space that would serve them better.
RIBA’s Fiona MacDonald adds: “Clear Architects not only delivered an incredibly engaging series of workshops with students, but the legacy of their involvement is huge. The students they worked with have gone on to advocate for strategic design improvements to their school, which are now going into action. Clear Architects’ inspiration, guidance and confidence-building has clearly been a fantastic catalyst for these young women.”
Over the past year, three of the students who participated in the workshops with Clear Architects have had the chance to become Architecture Ambassadors themselves. They developed a design for the new art department that features extended glass roofs and greener spaces, with more brightness throughout.
Stephanie Jerome, head of art at the school, says: “The students re-used their skills to make design boards on how they would ideally like to improve the art block, both inside and out. The outcome of this project is already palpable, as little changes have already been made and bigger ones will be in the long term.”
The students’ plans were recently presented to the Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher and the Finance Coordinator of the school. To hear more about their experiences on RIBA’s National Schools Programme, click here.
Clear’s Alexa believes the RIBA programme was more than a simple introduction to architecture because it encouraged the students to overcome an issue with their own built environment.
“I think that we helped them think about how they could solve a problem that they had, that went deeper than just the spaces they inhabited, with architecture,” she says.