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THE UN-HINGED SCHOOL - Spaces for Learning on the Venetian Lagoon

Part 1 Project 2009
William Boyd Fisher
London Metropolitan University, UK
The unHINGED School is a primary school for 200 pupils situated on the south shore of the Giudecca overlooking the Venetian Lagoon. The idea behind the building is that learning happens through the depth and richness of the child’s engagement with the world, and in the perspective that the child can find on this experience through sharing it with friends, family, teachers, and as part of a wider community.

In order to maximise the qualities and pleasures of this engagement the unHINGED School presents itself as a field of potential animation, an unopened box, and demands a creative act of inhabitation from those who use it. It is an architecture based on variation, where the dynamics of the natural climate, heat, light, and sound, are experienced spatially and over time.

A complex material language of hinges, rails, interlocking elements, frames and handles allow the children and teachers to form and arrange the interior spaces, accessing the building’s services as required. They can create different teaching areas, separate enclosed spaces for concentrated individual work, or open the space out for large group activities.

Different moving parts allow the occupants to adjust the way that the building regulates the environment. In summer the building can open to the fresh breeze from the lagoon, with shading elements protecting the spaces from the heat and glare of the sun. In winter the sun is allowed into the interior while insulating elements are closed to maintain its thermal performance.

The open plan and the intricacy of the building’s construction mean that a member of the school must learn to take care when moving the carefully built fittings, and find ways to share the space with others. Through their inhabitation the children bring the building to life, and it will offer them strange and stimulating encounters with the world.

William Boyd Fisher

Will Fisher’s starting point to the year was an open investigation of the concept of “learning”. Historically learning was done through the system of trial and error. Medieval cathedrals collapsed several times because the structural knowledge at the time was very basic. Mistakes were made and accepted as a way to gain knowledge.

The Un-hinged School explores the relationship between today’s educational systems and the spaces that allow us to learn. Will’s initial studies look at the interiors of Buster Keaton’s movie “Scarecrow”, film sets that change and transform with the unfolding story. He transcribes the whimsical elements of the movie into a narrative score that capture the mistakes of the protagonist and diversity of space that are triggered by them. His subsequent analysis of school programmes and site studies of Venice reflect the same level of consideration and playfulness that define Will’s work: Thoughtful research that he carefully translates into delicate three-dimensional pieces.

In Will’s final school proposal the users and the environment become the active agents that transform the spaces – a building you can learn in and from. It promotes the idea of learning as a conscious act, where the users are encouraged to have an active attitude to their learning environment. This conceptual framework is matched with a mature control of interior and exterior conditions, construction, materiality and the spaces for the individual occupants. This is something Will does with quiet confidence.


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