Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dreaming Spires’ epithet conjures up images of boating, a pitcher of Pimm’s and the incredible buildings of Oxford University. Oxford remains one of the most sought-after universities in the world, currently occupying the top spot in the TES University World Rankings. But do the ‘dreaming spires’ inspire academic excellence or is it simply that students there are the academic elite?
Most people would champion the latter.
If you look at other universities in the TES Top 10, each has iconic buildings which could be argued inspire excellence, were it not already part of their DNA. So, how do the buildings in which people learn affect student experience? Can the actual building make a difference to the experience and results?
A few years ago, a pilot study was carried out in seven Blackpool LEA primary schools, where 34 classrooms with differing learning environments took part. The study evaluated the classroom environment, identifying what constituted an effective learning environment. The result?
A well-designed classroom improved the academic performance of these primary school pupils by a whopping 25%.
Moving south, Kingsdale School in London, was given a makeover, with an underused courtyard converted into a new central heart for the school. Covered by a roof constructed using the same materials used at the Eden Project, Kingsdale now has an atrium that bears comparison to the Great Court at the British Museum. Pupils eat their lunch café-style in a continental atmosphere.
In 1998 the school was said to be ‘failing’, after a report in which the then chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, described it as one of the worst he’d ever seen. Bullying was rife and only 15% of students were leaving the school with five decent GCSE grades. Now, with the new atrium, plus cinema and music centre, that figure has increased to 70%, bullying is under control and expulsions are down to almost zero. Kingsdale remains one of the fastest-improving schools in the country: confirmation that architecture and design matter. And, therefore, restoration, refurbishment and long-term maintenance is crucial.
At a recent Higher Education Estates Forum hosted by the University of Warwick, their director of estates, James Brekon, explained the Estates department vision is to “Create and care for places that inspire excellence, through exceptional service.” He championed social and cultural place-making, creating a better place for those who study, live and work at the university and more sustainable for future generations.
And this is nothing new – back in 2013, Julian Robinson, director of estates at London School of Economics, found that over a third of students had rejected a university due to the quality of its buildings and lack of facilities (according to research led by the LSE Estates Division and the Higher Education Design Quality Forum (HEDQF).
So, this is where we come in – Building Transformation provides national and international facade maintenance and restoration solutions for universities and schools. We know that the condition of a building can inspire students and lecturers alike, playing a positive role in influencing their emotions, feelings and behaviour.
The external appearance and condition of any building facade is critical in creating trust in your brand, ethos and values. We work with our clients, including the Universities of Birmingham, Surrey and York as well as MOD, British Land, Manchester City Council and Land Securities, to develop cost-efficient cleaning and restoration programmes. We can transform your complete external building envelope – meaning those dreaming spires, atriums and listed buildings will continue to glimmer on the landscape for the long-term.