SHH have redesigned the dining areas of both a primary school and a secondary school in the Southampton area, creating complete spatial transformations on a very tight budget. The two projects were carried out in close consultation with both The Sorrell Foundation and The School Food Trust: a government body created in 2005 and chaired by Michelin-starred chef, writer and entrepreneur Prue Leith, which aims to improve the quality of school food, promote the health of children and young people and increase take up by by targeting problem areas, which can range from menus to cooking equipment to the environments in which food is served.
"The most successful dining spaces are designed by young people in consultation with caterers and staff to create a student-centred space, that meets the needs of the school population and community," said Barbara Roberts, Delivery Manager at The Trust. "Both the Cherbourg and Applemore pilots prove that well-designed and suitably-equipped kitchens and dining areas are solid investments for the future and contribute significantly to the whole school approach to healthy lifestyles and to the overall success of the school."
Understanding the importance of the lunchtime environment and listening to and working with young people, The School Food Trust embarked on a project to create new dining environments in schools across the country. They worked in partnership with The Sorrell Foundation, after a meeting took place between Lady Frances Sorrell and Prue Leith. The Sorrell Foundation is a charitable body set up by designers John and Frances Sorrell, famous for its highly successful joinedupdesignforschools programme, whereby designers were matched with schools, with pupils acting as representatives of the client body, in order to show the benefits of good design in everything from school uniform to school buildings and create interest in the process of design at pupil level. The Sorrell Foundation designed a programme of engagement between the pupils and designer and recommended SHH (having previously worked together on the highly-successful 'Hub' project as part of joinedupdesignforschools - a dining and IT space for the Acland Burghley school in north London) for the project.
"We were delighted to get the call to be the first designers to work with The School Food Trust on these challenging dining space projects" commented SHH Creative Director Neil Hogan, who worked on both new projects, as well as heading up the award-winning "Hub" project in 2006. "We started out, as with the Hub, with a number of workshops and visits to commercial dining establishments with the school and pupil bodies, which helped to form a very tight brief."
Project ONE: Cherbourg Primary School, Southampton
The Cherbourg Primary School is located in the Eastleigh area of Southampton, very close to Southampton airport. Like many schools, its dining area is also the school hall and serves as a multi-purpose space, used variously for assemblies, sport, after-school club, storage and AV presentations. It was inevitably full of clutter, as it held equipment associated with all these functions, preventing it from serving any individual function as well as it should.
The brief for the very tight budget scheme (£45k in total) was to create a way to make all those activities smoother and less invasive by creating imaginative storage solutions and reworking the dining space counter area. The brief was to allow a separate feel for each activity, with improved lighting and storage, nicer furniture, better queuing at lunchtimes and quicker service - and to allow a sense of nature, colour and pattern into the space.
Structural work was kept to a minimum, with one solution by SHH saving £9k, which could then be used for new furniture instead. This entailed the new service hatch for the servery area, which was created by swapping a door and hatch position that used the same lintel and only then enlarging the hatch - rather than knocking down the whole wall and starting again, as had been originally envisaged.
Simple redecoration in white created a pure backdrop for a number of creative solutions to lighting, storage and high-impact graphic designs.
SHH positioned the ultimate low-budget storage solution - a shipping container - directly outside. Blackboarded around 2 sides to serve as a backdrop to outside lessons in good weather and featuring a green roof, planted with grass matting, the container could immediately ease the clutter problem for the new dining area furniture (as well as housing play and gym equipment). "We sought out furniture that could be stored in trolleys", commented Neil Hogan, "so that the whole hall space could be cleared when needed for other purposes. The trolleys also sit in the space during lunchtimes and feature coat hooks on the side for the children's coats to hang on before going out to play."
The far side of the hall has classrooms beyond a corridor area. The windows for these have been dressed with "stained glass" vinyl applications, tying in with the decoration of all existing storage containers to create a highly graphic environment, with great projected reflections when the sunlight shines through. New pinboards can be used for notices, teaching or to display the children's work. The new graphics were developed in close consultation with the children, who wanted to use images suggesting the outdoors, trees (tying in with the school's proximity to the New Forest), freshness and fresh food - especially fruit and vegetables.
To help keep noise down, lighting is set within 8 foam, sound-absorbing chandeliers (or "sound hoovers" as the children have christened them), each measuring 1500 x 1200mm.
An additional function has become possible in the space thanks to the new design - children now have access to special cookery classes, which take place outside of service hours.
Project TWO: Applemore Technology College, Southampton
This secondary school dining area had much more complex issues. Essentially a set of knocked-together spaces within a separated single-storey building, it lacked cohesiveness and atmosphere and was very unpopular with the pupils, with one area even formed from part of a corridor and a former classroom! Vision lines were poor and the space was in disrepair and even had some broken windows along one elevation.
"Unfortunately, with this project, much of the £55k budget had to go into structural works," commented Neil Hogan, "leaving us very little to have fun with, once we had knocked through the existing spaces to create a much better and simpler single space, which included the removal of an asbestos roof and replacement wiring."
The brief for the space was to provide a wide entrance to the dining area, with a sense of indoor greenery and some sheltered outdoor space, blurring the indoor/outdoor barriers. Dividing walls were to be translucent, increasing the sense of space and visibility; queue times were to come down and there should be better provision for litter and the use of sound-absorbing materials.
"SHH's design concept for this space was to make a virtue of the spareness of the space and create a semi-industrial environment with a certain tough and streetwise atmosphere, inspired by the new steel beams, with bright and funky graphics, softened by an 'outside in' policy with 3 of the new façades facing out onto the green grass", explained Neil Hogan. "The fourth façade, which faces a carpark, has been countered by a 'graffiti room' to draw attention away from the outside space, using the talents of local graffiti artist - aka the caretaker's son! - who will complete the room together with the pupils to cover the former table tops with graffiti and use them as panels for a new feature wall."
The 4000 sq ft interior has a relaxed cafeteria feel with zoned areas, some formal and some with looser low seating. Overhead hanging graphic panels help to absorb noise. The Applemore College Canteen name has been shortened to ACC and used graphically throughout to create a strong identity. The space is double-height with the exposed ceiling workings lessened by being sprayed in dark grey, with a datum line all around at 2.5m height. Materials throughout are inspired by nature, with a yellow and green colourway, and have a natural-pattern or natural-colour element.
A rationalised seating plan with value-engineered furniture is offset by a striking stripey floor in 2m-wide stripes (in a non-slip durable vinyl), with an industrial look inspired by Manchester's ground-breaking Haçienda club.
An external shipping container provides cover for some extra external seating (sprayed green to add a visual link to the interior). Also outside, screeded-off concrete stools (formed from Milton concrete tubes filled with concrete and aggregate) feature an iconic belisha beacon at their centre.