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Tales of the Unexpected

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Imagine you are approached by a school that was established in 1894, whose red brick Victorian buildings are clad with ivy and feature conical towers, beautiful mullioned windows and elaborate balustrades, and asked to design their new sixth form building. You might expect them to be wedded to their long-established, traditional comfort zone. You might expect them to want their new space to blend seamlessly with their existing estate.

 

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If the school in question was Queen Anne’s School in Caversham, Berkshire you’d have got it completely wrong.

Queen Anne’s School, a popular and high achieving independent boarding and day school for girls, may have a long and illustrious history but it has its sights set firmly on the future. Its new sixth form building, called The Space, is sleek, modern and hi-tech, inspiring those who use it to ‘think big’. This visionary new building recently helped the school win a TES award for Outstanding Post-16 Innovation Provision, with judges praising the building’s capacity to liberate learners from traditional learning environments. Dawn Bellamy, Head of Sixth Form at Queen Anne’s School said about The Space, “We wanted a sixth form centre that would provide the girls with a new way of looking at their learning; a creative, ‘without bounds’ space where they develop their own way of looking at their personal development. We also wanted an environment that links them to life at university and the world of work.”

 

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Inside The Space
The Space combines red brick and steel to present a boldly contemporary building that is flooded with natural light, incorporating playful, innovative spaces and clever use of colour. The ground floor is a vast, modern industrial space which houses the dining space (used by the whole school), a brand new digital library and café. With soft seating areas and witty, brightly coloured timber shed-style booths, dining tables and smaller individual tables this is a highly flexible space with partitions that can be opened to create a single large space for concerts, events or exhibitions.

Upstairs the clean, white teaching spaces are a complete contrast to the industrial feel of the ground floor. Designed to facilitate collaborative learning, these adaptable spaces have dry wipe walls at both ends of each room and agile furniture, including Bite tables, so that layouts can be changed to suit different learning styles. Partition walls further enhance the flexibility of these spaces which can be opened up to accommodate larger groups. These stylish teaching spaces are flanked by quirky breakout rooms, called Headspaces, designed by the students in an in-house competition featuring The Inside of Big Ben, Central Park and a West End Theatre. These Headspace breakout rooms are used by staff and students during their free periods and are there to be explored and interacted with as users see fit.

Alex Chapman, Associate Director at Lewandowski Architects believes teaching can only go so far in a traditional classroom, “To enable students to think differently you need a different environment, so you can teach and learn in new ways and unlock new skills,” he explains.  “The Space is an exciting environment to learn in, it’s stimulating and inspiring and it enables students to develop their independence, helping them prepare for life after school. The social and teaching spaces are inherently flexible, they don’t dictate how they should be used; you have to make choices and decisions and this develops independent thinking.  We wanted The Space to unlock greater possibilities than could be achieved in a traditional space.” Lewandowski Architects worked with Feltham Construction, a trusted contractor who built the school’s boarding houses, and specified furniture from Spaceoasis® who  also worked with the architects  to contribute ideas for the furniture layouts of the independent learning spaces on the ground floor.

Much of the furniture is unique to The Space because Lewandowski Architects took ‘off the shelf’ items and worked with Spaceoasis® to develop unique configurations, colours and fabric finishes.

 

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A bright and dynamic environment
Since it opened in June 2016, The Space has proved popular with students and teachers. Dawn Bellamy commented, “The Space has enabled teachers and the girls to work in different ways, combining the versatility of the technology and furniture in the learning spaces with the quiet and reflective surroundings of the Headspaces to move towards an increasingly independent way of thinking and learning. There’s a real sense of Sixth Form identity within the building, giving the younger girls something to aspire to as they move up through the school.”

Headmistress of Queen Anne’s School, Julia Harrington, said, “The Space is a beautiful, iconic building but what it has brought to us as a school is so much more than that. The Space is a bright and dynamic environment that has become the hub for the rhythm of school life. The Space inspires us to think big, enables us to pursue our individual journeys and brings us together as a vibrant and developing community that recognises the importance of our links with each other and the world outside.”

So, next time you’re approached by a venerable institution, don’t assume they’re dyed in the wool traditionalists. They might just surprise you.