Design for living

31st October 1997 at 00:00
Is your entrance hall shabby? Does it need a facelift? Morven Cooke looks at an innovative arts project which has brightened up a Glasgow school.

The bright, space-age redesign of a school entrance hall, done as part of the education programme for Glasgow 1999 UK City of Architecture and Design, has won a UK award for St Brigid's Primary in Toryglen, Glasgow.

The award, presented last week by the Construction Industry Training Board, recognises the outstanding contribution the project made towards helping children learn through practical experience of construction. The project with Primary 7 pupils was organised by the curriculum centre at the Glasgow College of Building and Printing.

What was once a dull school entrance - "scabby, pale and sickly," in the words of one of the children - was transformed with the help of two artists in residence from the former Strathclyde region's Arts Initiative, Carol Soutar and Caroline Scott, supported by teachers Angela Malone and Michael Chromy.

The new, dark blue entrance has stars on the ceiling and huge suspended planets. A brightly coloured papier mache clock looks down on a new table designed by topping existing steel legs with coloured and varnished cardboard. Students hope future classes will design and make chairs and shelves to match.

The project evolved from a design review of the reception area for Glasgow 1999. St Brigid's is one of more than 100 Scottish schools to pilot the Design Council's Design Decisions pack, which encourages teachers and students to use a design approach when looking at familiar - and unfamiliar - environments.

Michael Chromy started the project with the children when they were in P6. Over a year they reviewed the school entrance and made a series of recommendations. "We were split into groups looking at signage, lighting, moving around, and colour," says Theresa McCulloch, aged 11.

"It was difficult, because it was the first time we had done anything like this. We wrote about what we saw, designed a questionnaire for teachers, and made display boards about design ideas.

"When we started the project in P6, we wanted to make storage, like book shelves and cupboards, and had ideas about lighting. But when we came into P7 we thought these ideas were too complicated and had better ones.

"We wanted a new floor. We drew the hall, and photocopied the picture. Then the group working on colour decided on blue, yellow, green and pink. But we found out it would be too much money to have people pull this up," she says, looking at her feet, "and put down the coloured linoleum we wanted. We decided to leave it."

The main thing she learned from this experience was, that "you have to have a budget. But if you don't have enough money, you do the important stuff and leave the smaller bits out."

The class learned more about the design process in a visit to the Glasgow College of Building and Printing. "It was good fun," says Theresa. "We were really excited to go. We did bricklaying and learned about all the stages of building a house. We looked at designs for stained glass, where we got some ideas, and the table group designed tables on computers and learned about building a chair or cabinet. We saw woodworking and design studios."

A class project on space gave the children the theme they needed to tie together their various ideas. The school employed the two artists in residence to help. The artists planned the overall scheme, but the 25 pupils did all the work.

In class they made planets using bamboo-like withies. The spheres were covered in papier mache and painted. "We were studying the planets - what size and colour they were and which ones had rings round them. So we had a rough idea of what to make," explains Theresa.

"Then we had to paint the entrance to look like space. We worked in groups, and it took three days. I helped make Uranus and painted some of the stars by standing on a trestle table." Theresa also helped make a spaceman sign which directs visitors to the school office. "Because of what happened at Dunblane Primary, we want to make the school safer," she says.

The stained glass group made two bright panels for the windows in the hall. The designer was Barry Fullarton, but all the pupils in his group helped create the final panels. One of them features multi-coloured children's heads. "This," Barry explains, "shows all the children in school. We are all different colours, but we are happy and smiling."

James McTear and Charlotte Graham designed a large mosaic for the outer entrance. They tried several logos before drawing a simple St Brigid's Cross. The final design and lettering were drawn on acetate then enlarged, using an overhead projector, onto board. The design was outlined in black pen, and mosaic tiles stuck on by the designers and their assistants Claire Reilly and Deborah Anderson.

Teachers and visitors are delighted with the bright new reception area. Only one class had anything negative to say. All the work was carried out by P7b, while P7a continued with normal lessons. "There would have been too many people in the hall if both classes were doing it," Theresa says. "They said horrible things about it, but I think they thought it was good and didn't want to say so because they were jealous."

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