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The legacy of the RIBA National Schools Programme

23 May 2019

Amaara, Anu and Amber, the authors of this article, are A level students at Woodford County High School and previous RIBA National Schools Programme participants.

In 2016, Woodford County High School’s year 10 GCSE Art cohort took part in the RIBA National Schools Programme. Clear Architects, a Loughton based RIBA accredited practice came into the school to deliver practical creative workshops as RIBA Architecture Ambassadors.

A computer aided model of a proposed design for the new art block by Amaara, Anu and Amber from Woodford County High School overlaid over aerial photographs.

Clear Architects gave us (at the time, year 10 girls) an imaginary brief of redesigning the art and design building with no money constraints - an ideal situation! We worked in partnership with the architects, presenting them with the history of the art block, which was an old swimming pool before its change of use. The Architecture Ambassadors then led a discussion about how the art rooms could be improved.

After we had voiced our strong views about the art block, ideas started to flow about how our creative space could be transformed to better suit our needs. The Architecture Ambassadors visited our school again to teach us how to use 3D Sketch Up software, and helped us explore how to express our reasons for our choices in design.

A presentation board featuring one of the designs for the new art block by Amaara, Anu and Amber from Woodford County High School.

We believe that our art block is dwarfed by the surrounding physical education and humanities departments. It could be deemed unimportant or insignificant in comparison to the rest of our grade listed school. One student went so far as to claim the art and design building was a neglected space!

We designed extended glass roofs, creating greener spaces, raising the roof and even transforming the space into a brighter, fun building, like Frida Kahlo’s house or Julian Opie’s artwork, using computer generated design software. The project gave us a chance to air our frustrations and convert our concerns into outdoor and indoor solutions. 

One of the proposed designs for the new art block by Amaara, Anu and Amber from Woodford County High School.

Over the past year, we (all current students at Woodford County High School) have taken on the role of Architecture Ambassadors ourselves. We carried the legacy of our year 10 experience on the RIBA National Schools Programme forward by developing our architectural designs and demonstrating the improvements they would make to learning for art and design students. We were driven by our passion for the building itself, understanding of the importance of visual arts and knowledge of the history of our school to present our thoughts on how the block could be renovated, whilst retaining its historical charm. 

This year, we presented these plans to the Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher and the Finance Coordinator of our school, with the support of the Head of Art. We hope to receive feedback from the collaboration that will result in outcomes that could support art and design teaching and learning in our school and make a huge positive change to the environment we so regularly inhabit.

A handwritten presentation board featuring one of the designs for the new art block by Amaara, Anu and Amber from Woodford County High School.

This whole project has been a fantastic opportunity to be able to communicate with and learn from a local architectural practice. This gave the three of us, all aspiring to study Architecture, the opportunity to understand the field further by developing our 3D software skills, Sketch Up and CAD imaging, as well as the confidence to communicate our desire to make a positive change to our built environment.

For more information about the RIBA National Schools Programme, or to take part as a school or an Architecture Ambassador, visit the National Schools Programme page.

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