Roundtable: Designing for learningFebruary 8, 2016, 12:56 pm GMT
MEET THE EXPERTS
Kapil Kapoor – Chief Financial Officer, Taaleem
Jason Hird – Senior Technical Development Manager, Saint Gobain Gyproc
Pete Stapley – Senior Client Manager – Education Specialist, Design and Infrastructure for GEMS Education
Andrew Turner – Senior Project Manager / Partner, Hepher
Maram Sherif – Concept Architect, Lacasa
Jason Burnside – Partner, Godwin Austen Johnson
Ahmed Abdul Hameed – Designer, National Engineering Bureau
Salim Hussain – Principal Architect, Atkins
Bart Leclercq – Senior Technical Director, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff
What do you look for in a school when you're teaching or looking to have the right classroom environment – what's the most important thing?
Pete Stapely: Ultimately, you can teach in a barn as long as you've got the right resources and qualified staff and people. Beyond that, you want your building to complement the education you're trying to provide and the values you're looking to instil in your students. You don't want to fight against your environment; you want to work alongside it.
Jason Burnside: For me I don't think it's just the education. I think at any age kids want to go to school to socialise, and if you're not careful, that's missing from a large part of the design of the school. You need to provide that variety of space; it's not just about sitting in a classroom kids want to play and get out of the class.
Maram Sherif: I believe that the whole experience for the kids when they go to school is all about interaction, because education today is completely different from before. It's all about how they interact with the environment, how they implement their ideas and get ideas from their surroundings. Everything around them is important the way they move in the corridors, the way they go outdoors and come back in, how they interact with other classrooms, with older ages; all of this is very important – the interaction and the mutual reactions between them is one of the most important things in schools right now. It's not like cells of classrooms totally separate from each other.
Kapil Kapoor: When you look at learning outcomes, lately there has been a lot of emphasis on incorporating technology into teaching and learning, inspiring the children through audio visual learning. So technology plays an important role. You need to integrate the infrastructure of IT into the building design, so you make sure that it is thought through right from the start, as opposed to being an afterthought.
When it comes to things like sound in the classroom and acoustics, is that something you put in your brief?
Jason Hird: Some interesting facts about acoustics even in the fourth row, students miss one word in two. So one of the main questions for today I'm sure there's a lot of conflict between what designers want from a typical education building and what clients want from a typical education building. Does this ever come together, and is the main focus on the child's education and what they can actually hear in a classroom?
Pete: There will be an expectation of an understanding in terms of the different spaces in the school, be it the classroom, the music room, or an auditorium. The standards and expectations are going to be followed whether its UK standards, BB93, or similar you need to use those as a minimum guideline. You then get to more specialist areas like music rooms and you have to make sure that those rooms function correctly as well.
Salim Hussain: Acoustics is very important, and you need to look at it holistically. I think education is moving toward more collaborative spaces and there are solutions to achieve that. So if students are not sitting in the third or fourth row, and are instead sitting in groups of five, it's very different. You need to think about what is the teaching environment they are in, how are they learning, and respond to that.
Ahmed Hameed: Previously, schools in the UAE didn't look at acoustics as a major problem because the classroom was smaller, and by providing only a false ceiling in the classrooms, you didn't notice the acoustic problems much. The classroom size previously used to be about 40m2, but these days because of the new teaching methods, schools need larger space. So from 40m2 we are now designing classrooms with 65m2 to 70m2 of space. If we don't take care of the acoustic treatment inside the classroom and incorporate it in the project budget, then it will be a major problem.
Pete: The way that the room itself is used is… most of the time the fourth row doesn't actually exist because the children are sat clustered. Every now and then you might break out into a more traditional framework where they are sitting in rows, but in the next lesson again they'll be sat in groups. I don't want my teachers standing at the front of the class and lecturing; I want my teachers mobile, so I want my classroom to be put together in such a way that I can have a variety of different activities going on in my classroom. I can change my learning environment by changing the seating arrangement and I can change the learning environment by giving the teacher different focus points throughout the room.
Is this direction being steered by the architects, the professionals, or the schools themselves?
Maram: We had a client who wasn't previously involved in education he was an investor who wanted to build a school. So we had to get advice from a person with experience in education, which is how we could imagine how students would interact in the school and how the classroom works. We also had experts in acoustics and structural engineering and other disciplines come through the advisor. There are a lot of things we have to be careful about even in the architecture and the design itself.
Kapil Kapoor: One thing we've learned from our own experience is when you break down the cost of any school project, there has to be emphasis on components rather than the overall cost. So from an investor point of view, they will look at the overall budget. What we do as experts and learning from our mistakes over a period of time is that we break that down into structural, MEP, how much is being set aside for specialist areas, acoustics, as well as the clustering of specialist areas. So for example, where do you have your labs, and if the labs need gas connections you can't have the labs at different ends of the school. Even for basic things like sports pitches and tennis courts what side should they be facing? All of this affects outcomes so you make sure that you build that into your future designs and don't repeat those errors.
Jason H: This is why it's very important to get the individual experts and to bring them together at the early stages when designing an education facility, because we are all good at what we do individually, but we are not experts in everything.
How much of the design is driven by cost?
Jason B: When trying to be competitive in designing schools, what it comes down to is what disciplines can be removed and acoustics is one of the first. Also, that then transfers to build cost because that's the next discussion can you afford all this material. And then, as you go through the specs, it all starts to come out. The room is generally not a result of bad planning, it's everything else that hasn't been addressed yet that you have to go through to get a completed school on time, on budget you're talking about square metre rates that don't allow us the luxury of acoustics and watering and all that.
Kapil: In our new school in Jumeirah Park we have a state-of-the-art auditorium, state-of-the-art classrooms and MEP and learning spaces, and you can achieve it for AED300 (US $81.69) per square metre. There is so much that could go wrong if the heights and levels are not measured properly and you get all of that wrong, suddenly your quantities move up. You have to make sure that you're getting the best value for anything that's priced in the contract. There is a concept of value engineering that applies to any project; it's not just the cost of construction, it's the running cost as well, which is very important.
Jason H: There is a big difference between value engineering and cost saving. That correlation is not really understood.
Bart Leclercq: It's very rare that the client is willing to pay a little bit more so that he has a lower running cost. At the end of the day, it's all about the bottom line of what the construction will cost.
Kapil: That's why you need to make sure that the investor understands everything there is to understand for a project's running cost and you do that by sharing, educating, and making sure that the expectations are managed from the beginning. And also, the luxury that we have is learning from our own mistakes. We have 11 schools already operating and we get feedback on an ongoing basis. It's only six months after handover that you realise what you did wrong, how it can be done better, and how you will incorporate all of that into your next design.
Bart: You must have a lot of these lessons from previous schools that if you could put together would serve as a design guide.
Pete: We have spent a considerable amount of time putting together a client guide, design guide, design brief standards, room data sheets, everything to really create a design guide. And when we start to talk about the specialist areas performing arts areas, technology spaces, music rooms… that information will be there as well.
What are some of the challenges when approaching school design?
Jason B: We are concentrating on just classrooms, but there are lots of other spaces in a school and to try and get that value for money across the design, the places that we struggle the most with are sports halls and multi-purpose halls. One day it's being used as an exam hall and the lighting needs to be adjusted accordingly, the next day it's a basketball court, and another day there's a recital… so it's about how that space can cope with durability issues and still work for speech and music. There's no limit to what we can create, but it's just how do you get the best value out of it.
Andrew: The real skill is to be able to take a space like a sports hall or an assembly hall and give it that multiple purpose so it performs well as a quiet room, as a noisy room, as a sports centre, or recital hall. And that's quite a unique challenge because generally speaking, in other buildings, you're not presented with quite that same density.
Pete: On the receiving end, I know that if I've got a multifunction space like that, it's not going to do any of those jobs 100% it's not going to be a perfect auditorium or recital space, but if I can get it to be 80%, that's great.
Jason H: And that is why brochures don't work you need something that is tailored and designed specifically for your space and meets all of your school's performance requirements.
Andrew: It's coming up with a multitude of different designs to meet a whole multitude of different outcomes. And do they all work? Probably not.
Jason H: And that's exactly why you have to work with the experts in whatever field it may be.
Kapil: What we've learned is that retrofitting a place is more expensive than doing it right the first time. That is something you need to factor in. We get a lot of suppliers who tell us about other top schools within the UAE and how they got each aspect of a new school wrong, and that's what should be shared with clients at all times. We value that input, because that's how you pass it on to the investors and make sure you get it right the first time.
Pete: Similarly, if there are necessary changes that have to be done because of structural reasons or whatever it might be, you can still come back to the client and have that discussion.
Ahmed: We have two types of clients that come to us for building a school we have the client who is the investor and who will then hire an operator. That client won't put acoustic treatment or any educational environment as a priority. He wants the cost and he wants it within budget. On the other hand, we have an operator who will come to build a school he wants to maintain a good reputation and improve the schools and the environment. The authorities need to enhance the regulation for the educational buildings.
Would it help if regulators set guidelines?
Andrew: I don't think you can rely on the authorities to govern what your schools should do. What the authorities do throughout all build environment is they establish the minimum standard that everybody has to achieve. We are not trying to hit the minimum standards; we are striving to hit better than minimum, and it's the operators that are going to drive that.
Kapil: The challenge with regulations is… I agree that you can't have a one size fits all approach because you also have to consider affordability. We are working on an expansion project in Abu Dhabi and they have completely different regulations and requirements. In Abu Dhabi they have the Urban Planning Council that comes in and gives Estidama requirements for sustainability where you can achieve various levels of the Pearl rating. It adds to the cost quite substantially even to get the Pearl 1 rating, so imagine trying to aim for Pearl 2 or 3. It doesn't really add to the content in the classroom, it's because Abu Dhabi has the sustainable vision.
Pete: It actually can add to the building. We are working on a project that will be Pearl 3, and the only way that you can do that is to build those environmental features as part of your learning process, as part of your learning tools, whether you run a number of classrooms on solar energy, whether you recycle your grey water. Your building itself has to very much become an organic living building.
Andrew: The Swiss International Scientific School Dubai has got a Swiss energy efficiency certification called Minergie which says that this building in its performance as a school will consume no more than x amount of power. We are told what that limit is, and it's about 34 kilowatt hours per square metre per year. An average building in Dubai is probably around 100 on the same rating scale. Which means we are actually given between two-fifths and a third of the consumption needs… so we have to design the building in a particular way so that we retain much of the cooling energy, and all of the power consumers of the school have been designed so that they are running at the absolute optimum so that we can hit that rating, and then it is tested throughout the life of the school. And that does pay dividends we think it cost around 3% premium to implement it in the building, and we are paying hopefully a third less in our consumption over the life of the school. The economics are obvious, so the client was prepared to do it.
When designing a school, do you take into consideration a child's perspective?
Jason B: You step into a number of shoes when you're someone in the construction industry because you somehow feel obliged to instil clients' perspective in the design of the school. We've worked on a number of schools where windows have a certain height because they are specifically for a KG environment. We do a lot of things designed for a particular age group and when they move to the next age group, we start to build on that. It's difficult to make every single room different but at least give them areas whereby you can say they're responding to the ergonomics or need more social spaces. It's not just something we should be doing for one client if you're a parent, that's where you want your child to go, and if you're a child, it should be fun to be there.
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