Lyons O'Neill

Focus on: design that fosters education and innovation

Education design doesn’t have the best reputation. When you think back to old school days many of us have memories of dilapidated buildings and outdated classrooms. But it doesn’t have to be this way: done right, the education sector is the home of innovation and cutting-edge design.

The education sector is one of the most exciting areas of construction. Schools and institutions are investing more in their facilities in a bid to attract students and transform what they offer. However, it’s more than just pretty pictures in glossy brochures – building design has a real impact on students’ learning. Research shows that lighting and building design can have a massive impact on mood as well as productivity levels, with studies suggesting the design of a school can account for up to 25% of a child’s rate of learning. Clearly, educational spaces aren’t something we can take lightly.

And education and innovation go hand in hand. This sector is a key area where new, sustainable building practices are being pioneered. Take, for example, our work at Chipstead Valley Primary School where we built a 2 storey extension using a Cross Laminated Timber frame. CLT is an engineered material quickly gaining recognition for its sustainability benefits and it was a perfect fit for this project. Perhaps it’s only natural that education design should incorporate the latest innovation and technology, as they teach and inspire the next generation.

Working in the education sector can be demanding because deadlines are deadlines – you can’t delay the start of term! And if you’re working during term-time you’ll be faced with a live site and the challenges of ensuring as much of the school is as operational as possible. Not to mention the fact you can afford less than zero slip ups with health and safety.

That’s why you need a team who are adaptable, flexible and highly experienced. Our work at Heathfield Academy was a challenge because we were brought onto the project at a late stage in the design process, in order to bring the previous design through to completion. But what we discovered was that the proposed structural design could not accommodate the required services – and going back to the planning stage meant a delay to the school’s opening date which simply wasn’t an option. Cue a lot of hard thinking and a little engineering creativity, resulting in a structure modification to meet the design needs with no delay. That our work was a resounding success is demonstrated by Heathfield Academy taking home Building Project of the Year (under £10m) at the Constructing Excellence Awards 2018.

Want to find out more about the challenges and opportunities of working in education? Take a look at some of our previous projects here.