Over the past few weeks I’ve been developing the design in response to feedback from tutorials, presentations with external invited critics, and meetings with St. Johns. On November 20th we had our first pin-up with Michael Spooner (an architect at dRMM) and James Crawford (former RCA student, now working at dRMM). It was a chance to formulate my research so far into a coherent argument and define the critical position / overall agenda for the project. The discussion focused on defining more clearly the amount of control I wanted to exert as a designer, and the need to develop a design process appropriate to the philosophy of the project. Guan suggested I try to find a parallel between ‘practice’ carried out by musicians and ‘practice’ in terms of an iterative design process. We talked about clearly defining those elements of the building which are standardised, and those which are bespoke – as well as the importance of thinking about incrementally (i.e. designing the building in bays which could be added to over time). Michael was keen to see how the new classroom would relate to the overall master plan, and stressed the importance of seeing resolved plans and sections in order to be able to comment on the design meaningfully.

A week later was the department open day, and the ‘7x7x7’ crit (a chance for students from each of the seven 2nd year design studios to present their work so far to the entire school community). This discussion was centred less on the design and more on the position of a live design/ build project within an academic context. David Knight (who teaches ADS2) suggested I engage more critically with the planning application process – implying as a research project this is something that should be analysed rather than simply carried out. His teaching partner Charles Holland commented that the project threw up questions of assessment, suggesting that this project would be judged on whether or not it is completed, rather than the aesthetic and cultural criteria applied to theoretical and speculative project (something I’m not sure I agree with!) Clara again stressed the importance of finding ways of representation that were appropriate for the nature of the project, and the methodology it is championing. Finally, Alex de Rijke suggested that I research more carefully examples of architectural forms that are linked to specific educational philosophies or curriculum. One example that immediately came to mind is Herman Hertzberger’s work for Montessori primary schools in Holland.

At the beginning of last week I had a chance to present the latest developments to the Chair of the School Governors, Caroline Gulliver, the Head Teacher Gill Grimsey, and the Music Teacher Fiona Insley. They understood much better the process and philosophy of the project on this occasion, and mentioned a number of local community members / businesses who might be able to help with the project including Blanchford Building Supplies in Princes Risborough, Eland Steel in High Wycombe and a member of the local singing choir who runs owns an electronics company. Really exciting to begin to see ways in which the local community can become involved! We also discussed the planning application, which is my greatest concern at the moment, and on that basis decided to change the location of the new classroom to a site which sits  adjacent to farmland rather than residential gardens.

A few days later I presented at final crit of the year, back at the RCA, to which Peter Thomas and Pernilla Ohrsted were invited as external critics. We discussed the nature of collaboration, and the need to articulate the nature of each collaboration more clearly (potentially drawing some kind of map over the course of the year demonstrating this). Pernilla was interested in the economic model of the project in terms of labour and my own time, challenging the premise of providing free architectural services in the face of public funding cuts for this type of work. Peter raised concerns about practical matters such as the impact of the foundations on the tree roots, and the planning application (suggesting I consider options if construction couldn’t go ahead as planned at the start of April, and encouraging a submission as soon as possible). We also discussed the way in which Hooke Park (the AA’s rural campus, and a possible partner) would be involved, and the implications of a geographically larger site in terms of material sources and fabrication processes. This is particularly relevant in the context of Critical Regionalism, which is a body of writing and theory that the project should be positioned in relation to.

Finally we talked about the importance of presenting the theoretical ideas behind the project through the design itself; at the moment this is still the least developed part of the presentation and needs to be pushed in the final two weeks of this term!