Building a ‘box’

G09 5

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  • Title: Building a ‘box’: Discourses of School Design in the UK
  • Author(s): Olga den Besten, John Horton, Peter Kraftl, Peter Adey
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Design Principles & Practices
  • Journal Title: Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal—Annual Review
  • Keywords: School Architecture, Design Process, Discourse, Building Schools for the Future
  • Volume: 3
  • Issue: 5
  • Year: 2009
  • ISSN: 1833-1874 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2473-5736 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Besten, Olga den, John Horton, Peter Kraftl, and Peter Adey. 2009. "Building a ‘box’: Discourses of School Design in the UK." Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal—Annual Review 3 (5): 95-104. doi:10.18848/1833-1874/CGP/v03i05/37738.
  • Extent: 10 pages


There is currently considerable activity in the UK directed towards the reconstruction or refurbishment of secondary and primary schools. In this context, the paper looks closely at various discourses that evolve around school architecture. The omnipresent discourses at the national level are those of and around Building Schools for the Future (BSF) - a major government school building programme. BSF is presented and perceived as an ambitious project set out to bring radical changes for the better not only to material conditions of schooling, but also to the concept of secondary education itself. However, as the “first waves” of BSF are carried out, reports are emerging in the media that express disappointment with the project. At the local level, we have found, through an in-depth ethnographic research in several British schools, an array of discourses that contribute to the complex decision-making process of creating an individual school building. Such discourses, in which school staff, pupils, architects, consultants or local authorities are engaged, carry with them very concrete implications for the design of material school spaces. For example, a discourse of heritage brought in by the architects in one of our case-studies, resulted in a particular – rectangular – shape of the future school building, which would be congruent with the industrial past of the area where the school is situated. The paper also shows how the national BSF discourses are translated to the local level.