Harriet Swain watches Year 10 students try their hands as property developers
The brief: design a building striking enough to hold its own next to one of the most famous landmarks in the world. The rival design teams: Year 10s at a secondary school in south London.
The brief has been set by Land Securities, a property company that recently submitted plans for a huge development next to St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London. Prompted by the Government's new emphasis on enterprise education at key stage 4 and the desire to raise its profile and involve the community, the company decided to devise a programme for schools that teaches pupils what is involved in building and marketing such a development.
After a video giving a whistle-stop tour of the site and an architect's explanation of what his job entails, Penny Curran, work-related learning co-ordinator at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Secondary, Camberwell, discovers what her design and technology class know about St Paul's. She talks about all the things they will need to provide for their development: office space, shops for city workers and local people - as well as the materials they will use.
It is then over to the three and four-strong teams to come up with a design and a presentation to the rest of the class explaining their ideas.
For budding architect Vanessa Okeowo, 14, it is an exciting way of stretching her imagination. She is no big fan of St Paul's, but she likes the dome and she and her team have incorporated a hint of roundness in their proposal, which will be built from a combination of glass and stone.
"We thought if we made it all glass it would make people look at that rather than St Paul's Cathedral," she says.
Rochelle Oriogun, 14, is also enthused. She has decided her interests lie more in fashion than architecture, but still finds buildings inspiring. Her team has been trawling the internet for ideas and has alighted on the dome of the British Museum library.
"Our group had the idea of combining the past with the present," she says in their presentation. "Our design is meant to complement St Paul's but not distract from its importance."
Their building, which will be eco-friendly, will also have "the potential to remind people of the beauty of society and the beauty of our world even when they are at work".
Not everyone in the class has such high ideals for their buildings, or such firm career plans. But most appreciate the chance to work in teams and try something hands-on.
And while the thought of delivering a presentation causes some nervousness, they have no doubts about their computer skills, launching into PowerPoint without any problem.
Land Securities worked with the Education Business Partnership and teachers from London schools to devise the programme, which will be introduced to all secondary schools in London by the end of term. It includes a video providing an introduction to all the elements involved in putting together a development, and maps, plans, case studies, photographs and financial data to support each element.
As well as design, these elements consist of finance, marketing, advertising, retailing and community art. The aim is that the programme can be used flexibly - individual elements could form a single lesson, as at the Sacred Heart School, the entire programme could take up a day, or it could be used to support coursework for GCSE or A-level.
For Penny Curran, the main problem is fitting everything into a single lesson. She would have preferred pupils to have more time to work on their presentations, although she was impressed by what they achieved. "The way some of them are sketching is more than they have managed in a long time,"
As each group sees its design go up on the wall, the pride is tangible, especially when several show striking similarities with Land Securities'
own design. It may be that we are looking at the work of the next generation of London property magnates - or perhaps the next Sir Christopher Wren.