Working On Tapton: ‘Alternative Consultation’

19 October, 2006

Opened approximately 5 years ago, Tapton School was one of the first schools in Sheffield to be built under a Private Finance Initiative.  Disappointingly, the school design has come under criticism from teachers and pupils, offering inappropriate and uncomfortable spaces.  The “Working on Tapton” live-project is aiming to address these issues using a number of devices, principally a schedule of five 1hr lessons with A-level “Graphic Design” and “Resistant Materials” students (16 & 17 yr olds) at the school.  Lessons have so far entailed identifying spaces of concern within the school, carrying out photographic studies of them and undertaking a series of sketching and modelling studies to explore new designs, installations and implementations that will have a positive effect on the spaces. 

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The predominant interest in this project is the obvious failings of what can be deemed as ‘typical practice’.  Five years ago a school was designed that failed to acknowledge the general requirements of those that use the spaces.  “Working on Tapton” is approaching this issue by directly involving the users of the space, acquiring their input through a number of exercises that contribute to design solutions, but also their appreciation of the architecture.  This level of ‘consultation’ is not typical architecture and choreographing such involvement is no mean feat.  When carrying out games, plays and treasure hunts (see the Hunters Bar School Project – previously posted) with 4 year olds, the response can perhaps be easier to predict.  At Tapton encouraging interest and participation from students in their mid to late teens is a different ball game and perhaps often overlooked in typical architectural practice. 

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The school is ‘owned’ by Interserve plc, a services, maintenance and building group.  The teachers and pupils are ‘tenants’.   The involvement of the tenants in moulding their immediate environment can only prove beneficial to their enjoyment of the architecture.  The ‘ownership’ of the project is also interesting to note.  Most commonly live-projects have two timescales.  Firstly, A six-week period where university students ‘own’ a project progressing it through a stage or number of stages, and secondly an indeterminate period that continues on beyond the students’ involvement when the project may or may not survive in the hands of the client, user and any other participants.  This ‘ownership’ of a project is key to its survival.  In the case of Tapton School, ten students and 1 tutor have been involved for 3 ½ weeks and will continue for another 2 ½ as contribution to their academic progress and education.  The impact of their work will depend on the school and Interserve’s ownership of the project.  A third ‘ownership’ or timescale is that of the involved school pupils, as the classroom sessions contribute to their education and curriculum.  Hopefully their inclusion will ensure the profile of the project is retained once the university students have moved on.

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2 Responses to “Working On Tapton: ‘Alternative Consultation’”

  1. paula sharratt Says:

    This project sounds so interesting. It can be archived by the school and become a powerful tool for the future development of the school through this process which will enthuse and involve parents and others who may have wider links to the process of getting things done. If the excitement of the project could be put over through a ‘school development’ newsletter where the project is simply and clearly expressed but then the problems and issues thrown over to the parents and others to put their ten penny worth in then you would really get community ownership……. Good luck!

  2. mundane Says:

    Mundane says : I absolutely agree with this !


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