Where all senses are stimulated

6th April 2007 at 01:00
In two months' time, 52 children with visual and hearing impairments will enter a school designed to stimulate their senses.

Before the pound;6 million new school is opened, it is being hailed as world-leading in its design, and the first in Europe to combine educational and sensory needs. Hazelwood School, being built on parkland in the Dumbreck area of Glasgow's southside, will accommodate the pupils of Kelvin School in Glasgow and Carnbooth School in East Kilbride.

Designed by Gordon Murray and Alan Dunlop (GM+AD Architects), who designed the award-winning Radisson Hotel in Glasgow, the school snakes through the natural contours of the park and uses sustainable materials - zinc on the roof to reflect the sky and other colours around it, timber, and slate.

Existing beech and lime trees have been left and the school designed around them.

The pupils have no or limited sight and hearing impairments; many have mobility problems. They receive one-to-one teaching.

Alan Dunlop told the Tapestry masterclass: "Our philosophy was not to make things too 'safe', but to ensure the children were challenged and to create a secure space where they could play and learn independently."

The process required considerable consultation with local people, many of them opposed to a special school being built in what had previously been a green space; clinicians; teachers; and pupils and parents.

For pupils with dual sensory impairments, the senses of touch and smell were very important because they help with orientation. Secure gardens, teaching spaces and outdoor play areas have been created. The design includes a hydro-therapy pool, life skills areas where 16 to 18-year-olds can stay overnight and learn to be independent; and decking so they can eat outside in good weather.

One of the most innovative features is a sensory wall which incorporates a braille line at different heights and surprise elements that will give the youngsters a sense of delight and fun. As they walk along, following the contours of the wall, their hand may touch a paintbrush - the symbol that tells them they have reached the art room.

Visually-impaired children cannot appreciate vibrant colours such as pistachio green. What they need are contrasting blocks of colour, so the school will be painted in natural colours, such as orange contrasted with green.

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