Brian Johnson compares two UK schools - one that captures the worst of the brutalist movement in post-war Britain, the other, a blueprint for the future


Hunstanton School is a testament to the brutalist movement that swept through the UK in the post-war era. At the time, it was hailed as a blue print for the school of the mid 20th century - it had clarity of form and space, it was flexible, it was modular and it was fast to build. Unfortunately it was imitated by architects across the UK for the following two decades.

The school’s main design flaw was that its utilitarian aesthetic was at odds with the modern concept of a student learning environment. Its environmental performance was poor, with high levels of discomfort in both summer and winter. Extremes in temperature arose from high levels of solar heat gain and poor insulation. It deteriorated quickly due to the large amount of exposed steel work and suffered maintenance problems. As an environment, it did nothing to enhance the students learning and the academic success of the school has been mixed.

Compare this with Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, also a school building that retains a clarity of form and space and design rigour so evident at Hunstanton. The difference here is that the design architect has gone beyond the aesthetic to deliver an environment that clearly supports students and staff.

Mossbourne Academy is now an outstanding inner London school and an exemplar of the academy system. Yes it is well managed, yes it has a clear vision, yes it has excellent staff, but there is no doubt that its architecture supports the school’s excellent achievements.

The combination of all the above, should be a real blue print for the school of the future.

Brian Johnson is chairman of Aedas




Mossbourne Community Academy opened in September 2004. It replaced the former Hackney Downs School. It was designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership.



Hunstanton School in Norfolk was designed by Peter and Alison Smithson and completed in 1954. Now known as Smithdon school, the building was grade II*-listed
in 1993.