Blog: Hope for the Ordinary, Pray for the Extraordinary – Chris Stewart, Collective Architecture

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The Education Buildings Scotland Conference seeks to bring together different sectors across the learning estate to celebrate what works in re-thinking spaces for learning. It allows them to share insights on what’s possible to support improvement. A&DS has invited a number of design professionals to share their ideas. The focus of the blogs is on the voice of young people. In this blog Chris Stewart, Director, Collective Architecture, writes about the challenges of delivering extraordinary places with sparse reward. 


Architects are busy people who harbour a sob story of beaten down fees and a shrinking role within an unsympathetic industry. We love nothing more than to work with clients and communities to create shared buildings and top of that list would be learning space for the young. Our minds yearn for a programme which would allow us to spend time with the next generation. Oh! to afford research and explore technological developments. Or have faith in a procurement process which rewarded quality. Could this world be possible or is this just a dream chalked onto a board and rubbed out by the hand of reality.

Does quality have to rely on the extra mile?

Recently we had the pleasure of working with a wonderful client, delightful teachers led by an insightful head mistress, backed up by attentive parents to extend and remodel a bustling primary school full of budding potential. It was a commission we were very happy to win but it would be an untruth to suggest we were not complicit in a process and culture rushing to the bottom. Our work at Toronto Primary School for West Lothian Council came through a procurement process which tried its best. Everyone did all they could. Workshops with parents, teachers and pupils led to an internal circulation space which became an active pedestrian street linking the old and the new; here children engage and learn. The entrance was relocated so the local community could use the new gym hall in the evening. Playgrounds were made friendly, safe and introduced learning into the landscape. Everyone was so proud of what we achieved, children are happy, parents are pleased and teachers able to carry out their job more easily……… but did we need to make a loss? Why does innovation or even quality have to rely on this extra mile.

Designed By and For the Young

Suspicious we were not alone in our experience, we were simultaneously delighted and depressed attending last months Scottish Ecological Design Association conference ‘Designed by and for the Young’. We enjoyed presentations from children, teachers and parliamentarians however it was the designers who brought those mixed feelings. Stallan-Brand astounded as they considered how design can work with curriculum to create a new kind of school. Architype persevere on producing three new passive house schools demanding a toxic free environment. While MATT + FIONA BUILD work directly with children using self build to ask them how their environment might improve and empower them to bring that vision to life.

What brought the dark clouds was not the exhilarating work but the fact that these were missions, these architects were driven to these extraordinary achievements with sparse reward. The clouds further darkened when their work was compared against the average. Over 100 schools were built or substantially refurbished within Scotland during 2017 alone, many of these barely make it to the ordinary. This may be an old drum but as part of innovation we have to consider the impact of wider fundamental issues and keep banging.


Chris Stewart, Director, Collective Architecture


Images(details) : Toronto Primary School, Cumbernauld

Credit: Keith Hunter

Find out more about the Education Building Scotland Conference here.

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