Monday, August 29, 2011

Standardised designs for schools

The OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments has released “Standardised design for schools: Old solution, new context?" (8 Jul 2011). This 18 p-age booklet is particularly useful as it contains model floor-plans for schools and references to source documents on-line.
“Standardised design” can cover many aspects of the design of a school, or any other type of building.

Standardisation can take place at many levels from processes, dimensional co-ordination of buildings, components, assemblies and modules. However, standardised design is often thought of in terms of “template” or “repeat” design, and in its most simplistic interpretation implies a singular design solution for widespread implementation, the principal benefits of which are time- and cost-savings.

The increasing demand for school places across OECD countries during the post-war period through to the 1980s saw “standardisation” in at least two forms as part of the remedy. One was the creation of standard school plans and another, the development of industrialised buildings systems, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. From the early 1980s, as the volume of school building reduced, standardisation attracted less attention. However, it has returned to the agenda in recent years as economies have addressed a number of different issues from finding ways to construct buildings more efficiently by using off-site fabrication, to looking for ways of constructing buildings quickly and more cheaply. For example, template design was a feature of Australia’s recent Building Education Revolution programme. In the UK, standardised design is one of the recommendations of the report into England’s school building programme for the Department of Education by Sebastian James published in April 2011. This “Review of Education Capital” recommends that “a suite of drawings and specifications should be developed that can easily be applied across a wide range of projects”.

The report argues that this does not mean that buildings will all look the same, the designs can be tailored. The aim is to both improve the efficiency of the process of building many schools, but also to facilitate feedback into the design of education environments through periodic reviews of these standard designs.

Critics of “standardised design” cite it as being inflexible: It thwarts innovation and fails to address diverse educational and other needs of communities. However, there are examples from some countries that suggest that developing best-practice “standardised designs” and modular construction methods can be cost-effective, and reduce design and construction costs while producing a range of tried-and-tested educational environments that support teaching and learning. In the face of tightening budgets and increasing demand on governments to provide learning environments that support the development of 21st century knowledge, skills and attitudes, could standardised design be a model for the future?

On 30 March 2011, 10 members of the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments Board of Participants – representing Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal and Serbia - participated in a live web video conference on “Standardised design: Applications and challenges” (see Annex 1 for a list of participants). The context, implementation and overall impact and benchmark for the future through using “standardised design” approaches in six different countries, in addition to drawings, photos and links to further information, are presented in this report. ...

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