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Square Pegs: How Will Britain's Ban on Curves in School Buildings Affect Learning?

Britain's Education Secretary has called for a ban on extravagant architecture for educational buildings.

Last week Michael Gove, Britain's Education Secretary, passed a law that would ban the use of curves in the design of new school buildings. The Secretary asserted that anything with ‘faceted’ curves, indents, ‘dog legs’, and notches are out of the question. The new rules for educational architecture also forbids roof terraces that can be used as play areas, glazed walls, and translucent plastic roofs. In short: keep it plain, and simple.

These strict guidelines are a reaction to what the administrators think has been extravagant spending in the U.K. on architecture in educational buildings, and in anticipation of the rehab of 261 run-down secondary and primary schools. Instead of anything with any aesthetic value, they are rolling out "baseline designs": affordable, minimal, and purely functional edifices, that can be repeated building after building. By installing these restrictions to create low-cost, modular, and smaller schoolsnew designs also must be 15 percent smaller than current structuresGove plans to cut school building costs by 30 percent and save up to £6 million per school in the future.

Not surprisingly, many architects reacted negatively to these stringent rules. Architects like Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid have won prestigious awards for their innovative school designalbeit criticized by some for spending too much on them. Architects bidding to construct these various schools called into question why they weren't given a set budget and asked for proposals based on monetary limitations. But it seems the Education Secretary had already made up his mind about anything "extravagant" in architecture as early as last year, when he was quoted at a conference saying, "We won't be getting any award-winning architects to design it, because no one in this room is here to make architects richer."

Gove's plan is persuasive if you look at it from a budgetary point of view. But what does that mean for the teachers and students who will actually spend countless hours in these institutions? Studies show that a student's environment greatly affects their learning, engagement and mental well being. Some teachers worry the smaller spaces will lead to cramped common areas, which could mean less discipline, more bullying, and no space to foster community.

What are your thoughts on this new plan? Was the Education Secretary right to instate these architectural guidelines, or is this an infringement on creativity?

Photo of Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall via Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Zaha Hadid's Evelyn Grace Academy via Wikimedia Commons.

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