Last month architect Julia Barfield took part in our webinar on Builidng Schools for the future, here she responds to questions sent in by readers at the time

Q. How do you ensure the design will meet the future requirements of the building users?

Julia Barfield

A. With Michael Tippett school in Lambeth, flexibility was a key requirement. We had many discussions with the school about the nature of this flexibility and the discussions resulted in the structure being a column-grid structure which will enable walls to be moved in the future.

We also provided the school with generous-floor-to-ceiling heights, and adapted the space identified in BB77 as a library into a double-height reception space that is currently being used as a social hub but could be adapted in the future for other uses.

Of 11 school design reviews Cabe has publicised four scored mediocre, one excellent and the rest not good enough. How do we improve on this poor level to date?

Easy. Use good architects. The UK is fortunate to have a large number of highly talented architectural practices ready and willing to make a contribution to the Schools Transformation. However, many of these are smaller, design-led practices who are finding it difficult to penetrate the procurement process.

It is imperative that this issue is addressed if we are not to end up with many more mediocre schools and miss this golden opportunity. Perhaps the DCSF/PFS should establish a framework of practices who, as an essential criteria, are able to demonstrate design excellence.

Are the Building Bulletins too prescriptive in setting out classroom sizes and does this, in you view, prevent true educational transformation that might experiment with class size and multi use teaching space?

We were able to adapt the Building Bulletin in a limited way as described above with the library space. The social hub/library is proving very popular with both staff and pupils alike. It’s a space not currently in Building Bulletins, but should be!

I think the Bulletins are prescriptive and increased flexibility in their interpretation would benefit educational transformation, however, architectural solutions can assist this.

What standardisation have we seen between Michael Tippett School and any other BSF schools in the London Borough Of Lambeth?

With Michael Tippett, the programme was so fast that we were unable to introduce standardisation but clearly this would have a benefit to the overall national building programme. The question is: who’s going to take the lead and who’s going to pay for it …