Education In A Modern World

Aerial view of Hallfield Primary School
Education in a Modern World School design from the Victorians to Modernism

Image © Lasdun Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection


While reformers and politicians championed public education for all children, architects designed schools to reshape how students learned. Continually evolving education policies led to new commissions. Late Victorian architects adopted various eclectic styles and technologies, which helped to define the function of the school building. Modernist architects looked to prefabricated parts in an attempt to satisfy an unprecedented need for schools. While educators sought ways to teach effectively, architects pioneered a multitude of advantageous educational environments. This workshop explores the architect's role in shaping learning environments.

Some of the projects never left the drafting board, while others are still fully functioning schools. A number have found new uses or been destroyed. While fresh school ideas such as these were being designed, thousands of schools from previous generations and previous movements were still being used.

This workshop takes an in-depth look at the pioneering architects and ideas at work from the inter-war period until the 1960s. There is a brief look at 19th century education reforms and the late Victorian school building boom catalysed by the need to school thousands of new students.

The six examples of Modernist British school designs in this workshop are important for their design philosophy and impact on subsequent educational buildings in Britain:


  • Impington Village College, 1930s 
    Architects: Edwin Maxwell Fry and Walter Gropius
    An early example of Modernism
  • London County Council nursery school, 1930s
    Architect: N. F. Cachemaille-Day
    The growing need for nursery education
  • Hertfordshire schools, 1940s 
    Architects: Hertfordshire Architects' Department, Oliver Jasper Cox and Charles Herbert Aslin
    Designers respond to the demands of the 1944 Education Act and mass production 
  • Hunstanton Secondary Modern School, 1950s 
    Architects: Alison and Peter Smithson
    The beginning of the Brutalist movement
  • Hallfield Primary School, 1950s 
    Architects: Denys Lasdun and Lindsay Drake
    Part of a masterplan by Tecton and inspired by nature
  • Rowlett Street Infants School, 1960s 
    Architect: Ernö Goldfinger
    A school in a high-density social housing development


Guiding Questions

  • How can architects elevate the quality of education of students?
  • What is the ultimate aim of a school house?
  • Can architecture transform education?



About the online workshops

'Education in a Modern World' is one of several online workshops that explore different themes in architecture and are based on material from the collections of the RIBA British Architectural Library and Victoria and Albert Museum. Visit the collections in person or see them online at RIBApix and V&A Images. Workshops can be organised for visiting groups as part of the RIBA's collections-based education programme - contact the Education Curator for more information:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7307 3732


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