May 28, 2017 Last Updated 9:00 AM, May 26, 2017

PSBJ profiles The Red House in Plymouth

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Plymouth School of Creative Arts was founded by Plymouth College of Art in 2013 as a radical new kind of mainstream city centre all-through free school that, together with the college, is establishing a progressive continuum of creative learning and practice from age three to Masters level study and beyond.

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At the formal opening of The Red House, Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, hailed the school and creative continuum project as “an event in the history of education in this country”. The Red House was designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, a group renowned for its inspirational arts and education architectural designs, which include art universities, galleries and exhibition spaces, such as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The Red House acts as a site for pedagogical innovation in creative learning and as a catalyst for community regeneration in Plymouth’s Millbay docklands, an area which includes amongst the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods in the country. The building offers agile, open-plan studio spaces rather than traditional classrooms, mirroring the radical pedagogic structure of teaching within the school. These transparent areas are designed to both inspire students and provoke staff to work in new ways.

Creative design solutions and intricate planning by Feilden Clegg Bradley and intense collaboration between the architects, construction company and Plymouth College of Art, led to a cost of only £1450 per m2, a fraction of the former Building Schools for the Future project costs. Adherence to tight deadlines allowed for partial occupation of the building after only 18 months. These accomplishments were made possible due to the high level of trust that the college placed in Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ ability to put its vision of creative education into practice. This trust, which led to the creation of a landmark that acts as a symbol of regeneration to visitors arriving in Plymouth, is the reason that Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios jointly nominated the college and school for the AJ100 Client of the Year Award in 2016.

The school, which has already been rated 'Good' by Ofsted inspectors, supports the transformation of individual life chances for students and has had an immediate impact on local families, with a range of community groups using the building during evenings and weekends. The distinctive ethos of the school is an art school ethos, an approach where children and staff at the school learn through making in all subject areas, across a broad and balanced school curriculum.

Andy Theobald, Studio Leader at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, said: “We were delighted when Plymouth School of Creative Arts and Plymouth College of Art were jointly shortlisted for Client of The Year for the AJ100 Awards. The impact of the school on the local and wider arts community, the fact that the school is visible from Plymouth Sound as the beacon of regeneration in Millbay, combined with the hugely positive impact it has had on the learning progression of the pupils, are the reasons why FCBS jointly nominated Andrew Brewerton and Dave Strudwick as best clients of the year.

“In a climate of austerity and decreasing investment into the arts, these clients have managed to completely turn around this trend and provide a fantastic arts-based educational resource for Plymouth across all ages.”

Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, formally opened The Red House and applauded those involved in the project: “I want to congratulate Andrew, Dave and the governors of Plymouth College of Art for having the vision and strength to persuade the world that you can make a school that is rooted in imagination, creativity and the arts, and produce students who will be able to face the 21st century and who will bring to it a whole new way of looking at the world.”

Dave Strudwick, Headmaster at Plymouth School of Creative Arts, said: “I couldn’t be happier with the attention that The Red House is generating nationally and was thrilled that Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios nominated us for Client of the Year Award. Given the tight timescales and limited budgets for the project, the stunning learning space that our students now inhabit is a reflection of the skills and expertise of all involved. With this landmark building, we’re raising aspirations and providing inspirational spaces for our students, none of which would have been possible without the support of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios.”

Professor Andrew Brewerton, Principal of Plymouth College of Art and Chair of Governors at Plymouth School of Creative Arts, said: “I’m very grateful that our work at the school and college continuum has been recognised in this way, with the Client of the Year Award. We had originally envisioned creating the school in Derry's, a disused department store in Plymouth’s historic city precinct. We wanted big, open-floor plates, and the school had to be accessible to its community, a walk-in off the high street. For various reasons, this didn’t happen, and so we said okay, if we can’t have Derry’s, then build us a department store that we can occupy as a school. Working with Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios has been a privilege. You rarely find such partnership in a building project, and future generations will use and enjoy the benefit of their sheer intelligence in space planning and fitness for our very distinctive purpose at The Red House.”

Along with being shortlisted for the Client of the Year Award, The Red House was also shortlisted for a RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) South West regional award and for two 2016 Michelmores Property Awards, which showcase and celebrate the very best of the South West’s property and construction industry. The Red House was shortlisted in both the ‘Building of the Year’ and ‘Project of the Year with a Value Over £7m’ categories of the Michelmores Property Awards. These shortlists combined demonstrate the national and international attention being generated by Plymouth’s landmark building.

Speaking of the RIBA South West win, Chair of the jury for the awards, Keith Brownlie, said: “Schools should not have to cost so little, nor be built so quickly that their key driver is the satisfaction of ever more aggressive Government targets. Given that they are, one can only hope that they deliver as much as this building does, (and thereafter that their success is not used to justify squeezing budgets and programmes further). The first and lasting lesson that is taught here is that our cities are, in general, blandly monochromatic. Large colourful buildings are normally limited to out-of-town retail parks without much to justify them other than shameless branding.

“When bright, saturated colour is thoughtfully applied to a full urban block the effect is mesmerising. This is not, however, a throwaway gesture – the pivotal location of the site between port and city and the school’s wide community use make a celebratory building seems wholly appropriate. Nor is the colour a diversionary tactic – the school’s ‘teaching through art’ agenda in itself justifies a visual response and the building’s form and elevation treatment are highly civilised despite a limited and economic material palette.

“The very loose structure necessary for teaching hundreds of children of every age in a largely open-plan environment is arrestingly unconventional. This is a complex and challenging project made to look rather effortless in practice. Quality and consistency of architectural thinking is evident throughout, and the building delivers an impressive and significant addition to the cityscape. This is an intelligent design and the architects’ success in delivering a great project on an extraordinarily constrained budget and programme is recognised and applauded by the jury.”

To mark the school’s journey, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBStudios) has created a new film, ‘The Red House’. Looking through the eyes of children and staff to capture both the philosophy and everyday life of the school, ‘The Red House’ film premiered in London at Tate Modern as part of the Making Learning symposium.

Directed by former BBC documentary Film Director, Clare Hughes, the nine-minute film features interviews with: Andy Theobald, Partner at FCBStudios, who won RIBA South West Project Architect of the Year in 2016 for his work on The Red House; Dave Strudwick, Headteacher of Plymouth School of Creative Arts; and Professor Andrew Brewerton, Principal of Plymouth College of Art and Chair of Governors at Plymouth School of Creative Arts.

Clare Hughes, a Partner at FCBStudios, said: “As a former Film Maker for the BBC, it is now my great privilege to work for an architecture practice where I use film to communicate the importance of design in education and the arts. Plymouth School of Creative Arts are one of the most inspiring clients we have ever had the pleasure of collaborating with and the making of this film was as life-enhancing as making the school itself.”

Speaking of the founding of Plymouth School of Creative Arts, Professor Andrew Brewerton said: “The space of learning offers or withdraws the possibility of learning. With its art college ethos, our school needed a particular kind of learning environment, in which open discursive studio spaces and specialist workshops are complemented by sprung dance floors, a theatre auditorium, science and technology labs and separate kitchen facilities for school dinners and culinary art. As a formative principle, space does not contain energy, it is energy that creates space.”

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