Somewhere near you, a new school has arisen. You probably can't tell that it's a school unless you know, but you'll be aware that an interesting architectural form has appeared in your landscape. And this is the manifestation of Labour's avowed commitment to Education, a School for the Future; but a Labour future, in which form bears no relation to function, a gimcrack, disfunctional, uneconomic future of failure and premature redundancy. What you are seeing is not a building designed as the optimum environment for the education of children but a structure that is an act of architectural Onanism, self-referencing, designed for the day of the design practice's portfolio photo-shoot, with little regard to economy, longevity or indeed teaching.
The standard of design of BSF schools is generally piss-poor. It's the result of allowing utterly mediocre design practices free rein with the public purse in the absence of prescriptive and focused design briefs. Thus where there should have been a requirement to keep the volume of circulation and 'void' space down to 15% of internal volume there was none, allowing structures with vast empty internal spaces, building envelopes far bigger than they need be and astronomical costs for space heating and maintenance. The 'pretty' and the 'designer' have triumphed over the practical and the proven in the choice of fenestration and doors; already windows and roofs are leaking and failing, doors are falling off or disintegrating and the LEAs are replacing the designer bling with closers, door furniture and ironmongery that actually works.
They've designed classrooms with vast areas of glazing and the electronic whiteboard installed at the South end, guaranteeing that not one of the children blinded by the sunlight will be able to see a thing unless the LEA comes along behind to retrofit blinds and shutters. They've designed spaces that simply can't reach a minimum design temperature because actual children keep coming into them and going out of them. They've designed windows that can't be cleaned except by erecting scaffolding, roofs that can't be weatherproofed, floors that can't be cleaned of the staining and marking that school floors are subject to and walls you can't push a drawing-pin into.
The one facet they've not stinted on is the external envelope; this, after all, is the picture that will star in their practice portfolio. So whole varieties of interesting cladding, whether it serves any purpose or not, and whether it creates a risk of component failure or not, is tacked onto the walls and no two lines are straight. Anything as mundane as gutters, downpipes, wastes and vents that will spoil the portfolio pic are hidden away from view where they fail unnoticed until an entire section of wall gives way. God forbid they should actually be visible where they can be inspected and maintained. Some designers have even done their best to disguise the entrance doors where these risk compromising the purity of a facade, thus leaving bewildered parents and visitors wandering around the building looking for a way in.
The cost of this architectural Onanism is vast. Billions. There are few BSF schools that couldn't have been built at half the cost with a life of 60 years and a tried and proven layout; the old standard layouts produced by the London County Council architect's department need only minor tweaks to work in the digital age. Over the next decade when I predict some 10% will prove unusable and will close, a further 50% will need expensive remedial capital works and most of the rest will have spaces boarded off or demolished, we will start to count the true cost of Labour's folly. BSF was nothing more than an exercise in transferring our taxes to the corduroy-lined pockets of an undistinguished and second-rate design cabal.