Friday 31 August 2012

Evelyn Grace Academy by Zaha Hadid Architects - Alternative way to consider the future of our school

Image is taken from Zaha Hadid Architects / The main entrance of Evelyn Grace Academy

Last September, during Open City event in London, Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton was included in the list of the event and it was a nice opportunity to visit recent Zaha’s work. Hundreds of people came to the school and agreed it is an unusual architecture and special experience. After the visiting, it was thought that writing an article about Evelyn Grace Academy would be worth to understand new trend of education buildings in UK and Zaha’s approach for the type of architecture. Therefore, when Korean Institute of Educational Facilities asked to contribute an article about recent UK education building, it was easy to decide topic of the article.
Through the article, there are three main arguments to look deeply at Evelyn Grace Academy. Firstly, from the point of urban policy, this building should be understood as a flagship project in a devastated urban area and as an education led urban regeneration. ARK Schools, an education charity and the founder of the school, believes that education is an important method to cut the cycle of poverty. This charity supports to increase education quality in impoverished areas and has set up 11 schools in UK. Evelyn Grace Academy has been planned for not only a stunning shape of architecture in old affordable housing areas but also finding a possibility to overcome poverty and inequality in Brixton that had no secondary school.

Image by Networking City / Social housing in Brixton

Secondly, as considering the internal relationships, this school needs to be examined as a small society, furthermore, as a city. Although school (especially university) generally has been understood as a city because lots of students and staffs stay in, Evelyn Grace Academy which has four schools in the building is much more complex and complicate than other schools. Definitely, there should be more delicate considerations to make discreet management system and adequate collaboration between the schools from the early stage of the building design. As a result of the considerations, the corridors of this building, wider than normal school corridors, play a role like streets in small town by variation of visual effects, diverse volumes of internal space and good connection with internal and external space, and it leads more social activities of students.


Image by Networking City / Inside corridor of Evelyn Grace Academy

Image by Networking City / Spatial Experience in Evelyn Grace Academy

Lastly, Evelyn Grace Academy is a good example to show how architects fight against the common ideas of ‘school’, one of the most quantificational and standardized architectural type, within limited budget and area with keeping their design ideas and its final quality. There are many regulations and basic standards for the school building like suitable class size, noise and so on. The architects had have to consider how dynamic form and space make a cool relationship with standardized room size, basic class unit and needed clear functionality. Z shape of Evelyn Grace Academy, which is very unusual among school projects, was suggested for complex programs and effective using the site rather than Zaha’s design tendency. (Interview with Lars Teichmann, Project Architect) Architects generally do not want to make Z shape because it is hard to solve functional problems in the plan even though it is a private house. But in this project, Z shape of the building makes a clear distinctive point in contrast to other school projects and the herald symbol showing the change of the most deprived area in the UK.

Image is taken from Zaha Hadid Architects / Site circulation and Composition

Some people have a cynical view for Zaha’s works. I was one of them.
However, after visiting Evelyn Grace Academy, when her project is seen on website or magazine, the project attracts me more than before.