Design review verdict offers boost to controversial standardisation agenda

Design Council Cabe has given its support to one of the first standardised school designs to emerge from the industry in response to the government’s drive to cut the cost of school building.

Following a design review of the Atkins-designed Keynes primary school, part of the Sunesis range of standardised schools developed by Willmott Dixon and local authority organisation Scape, Cabe said that it believed the model “could be a successful way to build new schools.”

Cabe reviewed the Sunesis designs in relation to two specific schools, Oakfield primary in Warwickshire and Gatten and Lake primary on the Isle of Wight. In both cases, Alan Thompson, Design Council Cabe senior adviser, said that Cabe “support[s] this design” for the schools in question, and added that the organisation “think[s] it could provide a valuable new learning environment.”

We find the Keynes to be a valuable response to delivering new primary schools

Design Council Cabe review

The reviews will be a boost for the standardisation agenda amid controversy among areas of the education and design communities, who have questioned how standardised schools, advocated by Sebastian James in his recent review of schools capital, could work in practice.

In its review, Cabe acknowledged that “a traditional, bespoke design process clearly has greater scope to respond to its particular context and brief”. However, it added: “Nevertheless we find the Sunesis Keynes project to be a valuable response to the challenges of delivering new primary schools.”

Specifically, Cabe welcomed the schools’ model of direct access from classrooms into school grounds, and the inclusion of outdoor learning spaces. However, it said that landscape design still required attention, and suggested that a guidance document be provided to help project-specific design teams integrate the school onto individual sites. Cabe also pointed out that the model would not be suitable for all sites, particularly those that lack level ground.

Philip Watson, Atkins design director, said: “We believe that good design can help solve some of the big challenges facing our society. Cabe’s support for Keynes recognises that Atkins’ design is a thoughtful attempt to create learning environments that are inspirational, affordable and sustainable.”

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