Architecture in Schools: Secondary Awards



School: Oak Lodge School for The Deaf           

Group Name: Enrichment: Open Spaces, Architecture Competition.

Year Group: Mixed Years 8 – 11            Age:    12-16                        

Subject Area: Enrichment (Specialist subjects Art & Design and Maths)

Teacher: Darryl Bedford, Miles Thomas and Karthik Vijayanandam.

Partner Architect/Engineer: Martin Glover.

Project brief : ‘to design a 21st century community hub’  


1. Describe your design, including architectural and sustainable features:


The inclusive design of our 21st century community hub is situated at our local Deaf club, located in St Bede’s Church, Clapham. Our imaginative spaces incorporate a café, restaurant, garden, allotment, library, relaxation area, nursery, green house, theatre, cinema, basement and balcony with lift and stair shafts. Our design is a visually expressive response to the built environment with a singular overriding aim; inclusion is always at the centre of an accessible environment.


The needs of all our participants were considered when designing our community hub by engaging in consultative processes and spatial awareness activities. Our internal and external spatial needs brought about important and relevant perspectives to the design as it developed. Our intention was therefore to provide creative and constructive spaces around architectural design, aiming at integrating issues not just of accessibility but also of diverse sensory and physical perceptions and experiences of space. Too often Deaf and disabled people have been excluded through not only in access to physical spaces but also through the inaccessibility of (and assumptions in) designers’ conceptual spaces.


Being involved in the whole design process, design philosophies and approaches from the start enabled our students to come up with richer descriptions of material space and Deafness than traditionally discussed and opened up interpretations of the built environment from different ‘positions’ to creative and constructive review, which allowed for conflict and complexity, but also for deeper levels of understanding, and therefore, enriched our design qualities. This project was also seen as much about ‘problem-seeking’ as ‘problem-solving’. It was concerned with exploring the difficulties of, and

issues raised by a Deaf community that depends on a visual language as their primary mode of communication.


Arcs, glass, solar energy and the harnessing of natural light played a fundamental part in the design considerations of our 21st century community hub. A floating floor above the nave with an 8 shaped central balcony (a contemporary reinstatement of stained glass such as a balustrade) was incorporated to enable the flow of traffic, communication and light on all levels within the hub and glass cylindrical lift shafts with wrap around spiral staircases were just a few examples of our innovative designs.


 2. Did you decide to make use of any part of your existing local Deaf club or did you start from       scratch?


The decision to retain much of the existing structure was not taken lightly. We all agreed St Bede’s was something we could work with and had much potential in its current form, there was also something about Sir Edward Maufe’s design that commanded respect and we considered it insensitive to the origins, history and identity of St Bede’s to wipe out all existing traces and start from scratch when what already exists only serves to compliment our ideas and vice versa. One of the major renovations inside the building was the removal of the ground floor ceiling to make way for a raised arc like balcony thus opening up the scope of communication with people on all levels within the hub and I find it difficult to conceive something that would be more complimentary and functional to the interior of St Bede’s than that which has been suggested.


3. In what ways does your community centre support and provide facilities for your local community?


Our community centre would be the UK’s second only Deaf Cultural Centre to bring together elements of the Deaf community and Deaf culture under one roof and it is a space in which Deaf culture is celebrated, explored and represented through a series of community and leisure projects, arts, exhibitions and social events. The UK’s only existing Deaf Cultural Centre is currently located in Birmingham and does an excellent job of representing the Deaf communities throughout the Midlands but is a stretch too far for those residing in London and the south east. Ironically, the Deaf communities in London and the south east are substantially larger than those in Birmingham or the Midlands so the location of St Bede’s is perfectly primed to represent the Deaf communities throughout these areas. 


The café would provide a ‘conversation friendly’ space enabling people to communicate with apparent ease. This is achieved by arranging or adapting round tables, chairs and seating areas in choices of a singular or a series of arcs and the same design principles also apply to the nursery. The garden and allotment would provide stock, an external area for the café and horticultural opportunities whilst the library would provide a broad Deaf archival service to anybody interested in accessing Deaf culture, literature, history and media. The theatre is designed to provide a broad range of Deaf entertainment, from plays to films in subtitles and sign language with regular screenings, something that is currently lacking in the UK.



4. Why should your teacher win the Inspirational Teacher Award?


Our response was borne out of a team effort investing a lot of time and energy in a truly collaborative experience.


Darryl Bedford: Head of Art (AST) Creative ICT across the curriculum


Miles Thomas: Art Teacher


Karthik Vijayanandam: Maths Teacher


5. Why should your architect or engineer win the Design Mentor Award?


Martin Glover was both an inspirational architect and an excellent role model who’s conviction convinced us that anything is possible providing we put our minds together and work hard. He is a passionate Deaf professional who’s vast experience and spatial awareness enabled us to unlock the concept of a Deaf space. He negotiated with the Deaf club on our behalf so that we could consult with members of the Deaf club, gather invaluable information and pave the way for some excellent model making sessions where we were able to realise our visions. He also carried out significant research on the plans of St Bede’s Church and Clapham Deaf Club by visiting the archives and attaining invaluable information thus equipping us with a wealth of background information and increasing our understanding of the history of St Bede’s.