Hi Neil, Thanks for speaking to me today and congratulations on the Hidden Hero Award!
You were nominated for your role in the Observatory Block at Graveney School, can you tell me a little bit about the project and how you’ve been involved?
I’ve been involved in the developments at Graveney School for more than eight years now. The first project was the Bradford block, the six-form block, that came about via one of my ex-students. He introduced me to Alex (Architect, Urban Projects Bureau) and after several meetings, including the stakeholder's senior management and the governing body collectively we came up with an absolutely amazing idea. After the success of this building, it was a natural progression that Alex would be involved in the next project, The Observatory, creating a different architecture but still using the same CLT (cross laminated timber) construction. The cost reduction of this type of construction is tremendous, plus the sustainability side of it is phenomenal in comparison to what a normal build of that sort of size and dimension.
My involvement was to show the students how real things happen – we didn’t have to take them to a building site, they were already on one. During the construction of the building, I used to take my students up to the top of the food technology block which overlooks the site to take pictures and the kids were enthused!
I love talking about STEAM (Science, Technology, English, Art, Maths) subjects and this project encompasses all of them. It was a phenomenal time to be teaching and for the kids to be learning and experiencing architecture in 3D. To be able to follow the project from drawing to construction really connected the students to the project.
What have you enjoyed most about being involved in the project?
There were several things, but I really enjoyed teaching the students creativity. You can be creative by drawing and coming up with ideas, but to be able to see a project go from 2D to 3D was instrumental for them.
They saw the cranes building with elements like Lego – with every single piece numbered. We were there one week when the floor came in – so they saw it as a real-life construction. We also did a flow diagrams to show how the whole thing worked in stages and went into the building before the windows and doors went in so they could see the physical development. It was a real-life apparatus - we would sit on the grass in front of the building and draw/sketch it in isometric perspectives.
They could look at the drawings and models and see how it went from small to big, then small again as they were able to relate the actual structure back to the original drawings.
How has the building benefited the students now it’s completed?
Our school is divided into different types of buildings and spaces, from traditional Victorian classrooms, encumbering narrow hallways and brick facades. When you are in the classrooms in The Oppenheim building (with its Observatory proudly projecting from the roof) the students do not feel like they are in a traditional classroom at all. The large windows connect to the surrounding greenery and the natural sunlight flows in from different angles. It has an airiness to it; through the transparent mesh you can see from one end to another end. I think this makes the students feel relaxed. The building is perfectly situated from east to west, a perfect view from Gatwick airport to Heathrow airport. As it is raised on a hill, you have these 360 panoramic views of London from the rooftop which the students can access and is absolutely amazing. The observatory built on the rooftop is there for the astrology students to study the stars.
Why do you think it’s important to teach about architecture and design?
I always begin with the idea that architecture, creativity and product design need to suit specific needs. The reason why it is essential to teach architecture is because everything has been designed to suit a purpose, nothing excluding! We need architecture and design to keep metamorphosing and be able to challenge ourselves in order to fulfill new purposes, needs, want or desires. Through design, you can be expressive.
You’ve led several projects which aim to promote diversity within architecture and the build environment profession. What more do you think the industry needs to do for us to seen better representation in these sectors?
Last week, I gave a lecture at Liverpool University and named it You have the Power: focusing on Power, Control, Money. The idea of dissemination of power is to encourage the people who hold the power to share it with everyone.
Diversity, racism and sexism are words that have been put out there as diversionary tactics. Whilst everyone is trying to justify those isms, the power remains, the control remains, and the money remains with those few people.
We can design and bring diversity into the built environment by celebrating the UK’s rich culture and multiculturalism and reflect that in the built environment. What I try to get through to my students is that they have Power and ultimately the Control and Monies to do this.
COVID has given us the opportunity to reassess and revaluate lifestyle choices and has given us access to the world. The death of George Floyd has acted as a catalyst for ‘bringing together’ the Non-Traditional, Traditional and likeminded. Allowing disenfranchised people to have a voice. It has given us the perfect opportunity to get together, restructure and think about how we can move forward in a positive way, touching everyone’s soul, not just the select few who have had the power for so long.
Could you tell me about ‘GLAM goes Global’?
GLAM GOES GLOBAL is a wearable architecture zoom workshop which is happening this weekend (28th-29th November 2020) that brings creative people together from all over the world. The idea is to invite creatives to design a wearable piece of sustainable architecture helped by tutors and professionals. We ask them to question the relationship between power & space through interdisciplinary design. Suponsored by RIBA, Karakusevic Carson, Architecture Foundation, and Supported by UAl Central St Martins, Pedagooogia 3000, Oxford Brookes, University of Westminister and Desitecture - it is a truly Global event. The idea came about whilst facilitating a collaboration between textile and architecture students at Graveney School, and my love for Gucci and Louis Vuitton. The students said why not call it ‘Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Architecture & me’. The title really lures people in! A 'Trojan horse' says Professor Harriet Harriss Pratts Institute School of Architecture NY
Find out more information here