New Digital Designs for Victorian Village School

Banner 6For the past four months 2nd year architecture students at De Montfort University have been involved in an exciting community project to design a new multi-purpose classroom building for a Victorian primary school in the village of Swannington in Leicestershire. The existing school was built in 1825 originally as a Baptist chapel (‘Bethel Chapel’) and it retains many of the architectural details you would expect to see in this kind of building at this date. The governors and head teacher of Swannington CoE Primary School approached the Digital Building heritage Group at DMU in 2014 for help with their SPACE project, to raise funds for the new building which was to occupy a site beside the existing school and is to provide improved facilities for Early Years Children; a universal teaching space to enhance ICT provision; before and after school care and a quality venue for use by the community. It quickly became apparent that the DMU architecture students could really help drive the project forward by using their design skills and knowledge of English architectural history to create innovative design proposals for discussion. Through a series of structured consultations (happily often involving tea and cake) the architecture students worked with teachers, parents and pupils (their “Clients”) to develop a range of designs which showed how new architecture can fit sensitively and meaningfully alongside historic domestic 19th century buildings in a village setting. Banner 7All over the country there is an urgent need to develop architectural designs in this way to preserve the character and heritage of our villages and small towns. Pressure to expand has made it more important than ever that young architects and building design professionals understand the techniques to do this and develop an informed, knowledgeable and sympathetic outlook towards smaller regional communities and their built environment and heritage. The benefits the DMU students have gained through this “live” project have been enormous but their creative approach has also helped the school’s parents teachers and governors reflect on how the new building can enhance the learning experience of the children by creating a positive, safe and engaging indoor and outdoor environment. Innovative practical features have also been developed for all the designs from special child sized window seats to clever internal storage cupboards for learning and play equipment. All the building proposals have been designed so that they can be built using normal, readily available construction methods and some have included a community build option which could potentially allow the school’s parent volunteers to carry out aspects of the construction themselves. Banner 8The students made extensive use of digital technologies to both develop and present their designs, creating accurate 3D digital models of the existing site and its surrounding buildings which were then used to visualise the new design proposals. The student’s design projects form a major part of their 2nd year work for their BA(Hons) Architecture degree so it’s doubly rewarding that Swannington CofE Primary School has invited them to exhibit their designs towards the end of the academic year at the School’s Summer Fair on Saturday 16th May 2015. Hosted by the school’s Head Teacher Mr. Andrew Mawdsley and the school’s governors in the existing Victorian schoolhouse, this hugely enjoyable annual event involves the whole village of Swannington and will be the first pubic exhibition of the De Montfort students’ designs for the new multi-purpose classroom building. It is hoped that the designs will spark real debate and discussion – as they are intended to do – about how the school might move forward in developing its new classroom building. The Digital Building Heritage Group at DMU is delighted to have been able to extend its experience and expertise in AHRC funded community co-production of digital heritage to this exciting educational project and to introduce undergraduate architecture students to the really great experiences that can be gained by working on built heritage and design projects with community organisations like Swannington CofE Primary School

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About Douglas Cawthorne

Reader in Digital Heritage at De Montfort University.
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