TreeHugger loves flatpack construction: it's easy to ship, easy to assemble and generally pretty efficient. Ikea has raised it to an artform in their furniture. But what about in schools? Is that a step too far?
The UK has a new government which is on a budget-cutting rampage. Its latest idea is prefab schools built to standard design from a few pre-approved plans, which supposedly could be assembled in 13 weeks. It takes that long to put together an Ikea bookshelf sometimes.
Photo: building.co.uk: Manchester Flatpack School from 2008
The budget of the Department of Education has been slashed from £7.6B to £3.4B over the next four years so there is certainly an urgency to finding some budget cuts. But do we want this kind of cookie-cutter building for the place where our children spend the better part of their young years?
According to a report by the Times, the schools will be smaller, with 15% cut from the standard class room size. All the communal areas such as halls, sports facilities and dining rooms will also be reduced in size. One report said that area per student had been cut from 8.7 sq.m. to 7.4 sq.m.
Another report says that that in primary schools, cuts will be focused on non-teaching areas but for secondary schools it could mean a reduction in the size or number of classrooms. Schools will also be encouraged to look at more creative ways of using space, such as staggering school days.
Architects are being cut out of the process, as will other advisors since the buildings won't be designed from scratch. That means that site specific buildings which relate to the landscape and area-and the client's individual needs-will be a thing of the past. As one said: "It would be a tragedy if all the learning that has been gathered over recent years into what constitutes a great school is lost in an initiative that is driven by parsimony and make-do."
Things aren't looking good and won't be anytime soon with an Education Minister who is busy attacking architects for getting rich at the public expense. He said that "We won't be getting Richard Rogers to design your school. We won't be getting any 'award-winning architects' to design it, because no-one in this room is here to make architects richer."
There will be several pre-approved standard designs that construction companies have already begun to work on. The classrooms, gyms and lavatories will be mass-produced and plunked on the sites. Standard materials and fittings including radiators and light bulbs will also be prescribed.
The time it takes to build the school will supposedly be reduced from 18 months to 13 weeks. One construction company, already in the business, says that they can reduce the price of a typical primary or secondary school by 30%. Several are already working on templates, one says that they erect a school in just six weeks.
In true British fashion, a committee has been set up to work out the standards. Rather worryingly, one of the members is director of property services at Tesco, the country's biggest supermarket chain and another is from an office furniture chain.
Manchester already has its own flatpack school, built in 2008 for £6M as opposed to approximately £15M (the price for an average school now). The school parts were created in Switzerland from timber and driven to England. But it was built in the good old days with care and attention with "the children and staff have been involved in the design process throughout and are very excited about their new school." Somehow it doesn't seem that these new ones will be the same.