Selected Texts by AOC
Selected Texts about AOC
Tom Coward
Geoff Shearcroft
Privacy in Public Places
What should the 3500 schools to be delivered by BSF be like?’

What architectural qualities promote the kinds of social and pedagogical structures that schools will need in the future?

Many of you will have nostalgia for your old school desk. Hardwood. Lift-up lid. Coated in biro and compass carvings. Holder of text books, leftovers from lunch and last year's Valentine; it was your space, the only place you could call your own, in the vastness of secondary school.

But the personal desk is nearly extinct. Banished by flexible learning studios and the aesthetics of the Modern professional workplace it has been replaced by the table, on wheels, that tessellates to accommodate the complexities of project-based learning.

My first encounter with such a table was at a school in Copenhagen, built five years previously. Exemplary and innovative, incorporating an agora, winter garden and 'homebases', the building felt like it had just opened. Staff agreed it looked great but felt joyless, whilst pupils reiterated the feeling that they were just 'passing through'.

This transitory sensation may be appropriate in airports, or even in speculative offices, but seems misplaced in a supportive learning environment. Extinct though it may be, I suggest that the personal desk offers some insight into how we avoid this sense of rootlessness in future schools.

The fundamental idea behind the personal desk is to create a private space within a public building. An individual store, a personal billboard, a retreat. Being able to close, indeed slam, the desk lid was a way of claiming our territory. Like opening a window for air, shutting a door for privacy, drawing a curtain for effect or making our mark. Doodles, love notes and despairing cries written or carved into the desk offered a quiet means of expression, ripe with significance yet with minimal impact upon the wider community.

New schools need to meet these needs. Surface materials that can accommodate minute acts of self-expression. Robust mechanisms that encourage small-scale adaptation of the local environment. And intimate spaces that allow individuals to develop privately, in public.
Published by Geoff Shearcroft
Architecture Today
January, 2009