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Keppie call for greater collaboration between architects and schools

March 3 2015

Keppie call for greater collaboration between architects and schools
Keppie Design has led calls for architects to assume greater responsibility for nurturing High School talent, as they awarded Cumnock Academy first prize in its Interaction Schools Design Challenge - organised in collaboration with East Ayrshire Council and Ayrshire College.

Designed to inspire future architects in local secondary schools the initiative saw pupils tasked with designing a flexible and open learning environment for the under construction Ayrshire College campus, Kilmarnock.

Professor Christopher Platt, judge and head of Mackintosh School of Architecture, said:  “Architecture is not taught in schools as a subject so it is increasingly important for firms like Keppie to engage with education to improve how the profession is perceived by those who may go on to become the architects of the future.”

Keppie design director David Ross added: “In general terms, architects engage far less with the communities in which we operate than we'd like to admit, given that listening and communicating with those who experience our work is an essential part of the job.  To an extent, this could be as a consequence of a gulf between education and practice which has already been recognised by many educators. By addressing this issue there is an opportunity for architectural practices to become directly involved in changing how the profession is understood.

“It is my view that more practices need to collaborate with, and support, the wider spectrum of education in order to protect, nurture and ultimately strengthen the profession for the future.”

Cumnock’s winning design will now form the basis of an open curriculum support area within the delivered college, whose design team includes structural engineer Ramboll, contractor McLaughlin & Harvey and interior designer Space Solutions.


#1 Posted by james on 4 Mar 2015 at 10:05 AM
I am simply sceptical, suspicious and wary about this sort of malarkey by architects who have no qualifications or practise in the field of education at all. Also, since the real driving purpose of this exercise is more political regarding the current in vogue Scottish Government initiative and ethos regarding 'workforce' than anything remotely resembling something 'educational'.

Teachers do not teach in secondary schools to educate children to be part of a 'workforce' and neither should they as this initiative is contrary to the principles outlined in the Curriculum for Excellence.

I would have thought that 'talent' was the last thing on earth that a large commercial corporate organisation like Keppie Design would have an interest in nurturing. From a look at their website, they are clearly a different sort of animal in a different arena altogether.

The following poem came to mind. A tad on the dramatic side admittedly, but nonetheless it makes a quintessential human point:

Extract from 'Prayer before Birth' by Louis Macneice

...I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
one face, a thing, and against all those
who would dissipate my entirety, would
blow me like thistledown hither and
thither or hither and thither
like water held in the
hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.


- such is the preciousness of talent. Maybe best left to those who study education and are chartered educators to nurture I think, rather than a clunking fist.

It's a fragile thing.
David Ross
#2 Posted by David Ross on 4 Mar 2015 at 15:02 PM
Hi James, why not come and see us? I'd be happy to explain my motivation for this and why I think it's important. It probably won't change your opinion of the practice, but it might slightly shift your perception of us. If not...well at least I tried, eh? D.
#3 Posted by james on 4 Mar 2015 at 16:36 PM
Dear David,

That's an odd suggestion.

Anyway, to save us both time, here's an extract from the Business Enterprise Bulletin:

David Ross said: “Schools participating in the project have been asked to design, construct and locate a moveable structure from which to sell a product for a period of a month at the end of the process. This involves a number of departments in the school working on the problem simultaneously. We would hope that art, technical, business and IT departments would form the core teams for this exercise”.

Presumably the point of this exercise is that the pupils learn to 'problem-solve', work as a team and become entrepreneurs at the end of it?

This is the kind of extremely limited-short-sighted-outcome-result-driven-narrow-educational baloney that i am referring to. Education is not some game show like 'The Apprentice'. And out of interest, your qualifications in education are, what exactly? Please come and tell me. I'd love to learn. If not... well at least i tried, Eh? J.

(Here's a suggestion: It may be that if you were to take a step back and seriously think about it and read up on the educational and learning processes other than from a magazine (or why not even take 3 years of study to begin to address the issues involved) that you might just come to the conclusion that just maybe you really ought to stick to things like 'business management' and leave education to the chartered professionals - just sayin, mind.)
David Ross
#4 Posted by David Ross on 4 Mar 2015 at 19:25 PM
James, you clearly know more about me and my background than I know about you and yours, so maybe best that we each do our respective thing and hopefully, somewhere down the line, other people will benefit from it. Best wishes. D.
#5 Posted by ardbeg on 5 Mar 2015 at 05:57 AM
the 'raw' curriculum is a basis for education. It is a minimum requirement. A level to be achieved by all. Schools and local businesses widening and extending this is no bad thing. Teachers that embrace outside assistance, and parents coming in to assist with reading etc IS the work of "chartered Educators". I have spoken at my children's Primary schools (they have attended more than one, due to relocation) It was a fun, age-appropriate talk. The pupils, over the course of a year, heard from a number of parents. They heard about fire-fighters, architects, the police, engineers, farmers, an incinerator manager, an open-cast miner and a sheet metal fabricator and part time welding-artist.
What a horrible example to set to children, eh?
As children get older, taking this further and setting them a 'real world' challenge, to braden their curricula activities cannot be seen as a bad thing. they SHOULD get a hands on look at the wider world, whether it be architects, how to budget, looking at share trading with a mock-account, or where milk comes from.
My experience, and the satisfaction of parents generally, is very much at odds with your view, where you consider some sinister undercurrent.
Well done Keppie, and well done to the countless Architects and other professionals that take time out to talk to schools about what they do.
#6 Posted by james on 5 Mar 2015 at 08:58 AM
Dear David and Ardbeg,
Thank you for your responses. Debate is always healthy and welcome. I do apologise to David if I got a bit over eager such is the emotion of this subject matter.
Just to clarify - There is nothing 'wrong' in talks in schools by a plethora of external professions or trades or workers as outlined by Ardbeg, God forbid. Where i suspect we part company is 'setting them a real-world challenge'. Hmmmm. 'Real' for who and whose reality? That is the very real problem. What you call reality, I may think is a very narrow definition and invariably (I suspect) part of the whole ethos of a production/consumerist/mortgage-shackling western economy. I do not think there is a 'sinister' undercurrent. A misguided undercurrent, yes, but not sinister. Just because I hold a view against the prevaling one does not invalidate my argument. That is absurd. This is all i want to say:
Teachers want to teach and educate and like to teach. It is their vocation, just like how architects work. What teachers do NOT want to do, is to teach pupils how to be prepared for 'the workforce' in whatever way this happens to be in 'political' vogue at any given moment in time. There are wedges and there are thin ends. Be careful out there.
#7 Posted by RMD on 5 Mar 2015 at 15:07 PM
I do worry when commercial practices like Keppie start preaching to others on what they should do when it comes to Architecture and design.
As James alluded to, they are not the leading light in the Architecture and design, so maybe before their ‘Design Director’ puts out these self-publicist statements, he should start the education at home and stop the 'dross' they put out for every project.
#8 Posted by james on 5 Mar 2015 at 16:28 PM
#7 Haud oan, RMD.
I never alluded to any such thing.
I have not the slightest interest in where, or what Keppie Design 'are' in Architecture and design. My point, as you probably well know, was about something entirely different. Tut, tut.
#9 Posted by Roddy on 5 Mar 2015 at 20:18 PM
Forgive me -I have not been keeping up to date with the educational output of Keppies but a quick glance at their PPP secondary schools and I wonder why anyone would be inspired to become an architect.

Moreover the low pay , long hours and 7 long years of sacrifice and expense
look pretty unappealing to a generation much more in the know than in years gone by.
#10 Posted by John on 6 Mar 2015 at 10:55 AM
I think some people are missing the point here entirely. Regardless of one's opinion on the architectural design merits of Keppie as a practice I don't see how this relates to them going in to schools to raise the profile of their profession and the wider built environment. There is an acute skills shortage facing the entire Built Environment sector across most trades and all professions which is recognised by all of the major professional bodies. Selling a career in the built environment is difficult as careers advisors, teachers and parents often have little understanding of it compared to other professions such as accountancy, law, medicine or even teaching.

Therefore to be able to integrate basic problemn solving skills centred around a built environment focus makes what we do in the sector entirely relevant to school kids. If you study law or accountancy or a business degree, your career can go in many directions. Studying to be an Architect or a surveyor is much narrower and vocational, therefore leaving firms only with the limited number of graduates from which to recruit. By getting in to schools, the sector can widen its appeal and therefore its talent base.

It's not as if these guys are running the school or even taking full lessons, they are engaging as outside specialists working around the criteria using industry relevance.
Lesley Buntain
#11 Posted by Lesley Buntain on 17 Apr 2015 at 10:20 AM
This seems to be a closed debate but I felt I really had to respond. Projects like Interaction, and I'm sure there may be others taking place throughout the country, have been developed in response to a desire to enhance the education offered to our young people, and to offer them the best chances in life. Regardless of which profession chooses to take up this challenge, the key aim of the Curriculum for Excellence is to 'help every learner develop knowledge, skills and attributes for learning, life and work....'. Scotland's young people no longer simply attend school to learn enough knowledge to pass exams, but should be prepared for the world outside school and equipped with the skills they will need to survive in this often difficult environment. Cross subject learning, problem solving, and teamwork skills are seen as key elements of the curriculum, and developing these can help close the 'skills gap' often experienced by employers as students apply for jobs either straight from school or following further study.

The purpose of the Curriculum for Excellence is encapsulated within four key capacities, to enable each child or young person to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor. Learning subjects in isolation is an insufficient method of developing many of these skills, and the Interaction Project's main aim is to help foster the key elements of the Curriculum for Excellence through practice and first hand experience.

Design of all kinds is a useful profession to start with. Architects and other designers, if they are to be successful, must develop skills in listening, investigation, debate, presentation, finance, construction, problem solving, teamwork, and leadership, not to mention having a flair and vision to enable the end product to be realised. These skills cross over the curriculum in many ways, and can assist teachers and learners to see how one subject affects another, and how they can work together effectively. If you look closely at the breakdown of the four key capacities of the Curriculum for Excellence, the Interaction Project covers pretty much every one, and demonstrates just how collaboration and problem based learning should work in practice. Students involved in the Interaction project do not have to be designers, or indeed destined for this type of job. Those with good presentation skills, a flair for selling, a brain for finance, the ability to lead or organise a team, or those proficient in construction or more simply 'making things' all benefit from this type of team based project. Contrary to popular belief, architects spend their working lives working as part of a team, a team with wide ranging and varied skills, and a team which has to learn to work together.

It is easy to criticise Architects for using their profession as an 'ideal' in developing this type of learning assistance programme, but no one out there is limiting this type of involvement to one profession. Problem based learning, and the development of key life skills, can just as easily be applied to other professions, or indeed assist those school leavers who choose to enter the workplace without entering tertiary or further education. Leaving school with a piece of paper that says you have passed a couple of exams is no longer enough to prepare students for real life, and I'm sure most educators would be interested to discuss how industry and the professions can work together to ensure students leave school equipped with as many of these skills as possible. Projects like these, together with properly organised careers fairs also break down preconceptions of what working in a certain environment or profession can be like, and the skills that are needed to be successful. Doctors will be bad doctors if they simply know the ins and outs of every medical disease on the planet, without developing the skills needed to deal with human beings, and manage a practice or hospital department. Likewise, a student that is confident at presenting themselves well, or has been helped to discover that, whilst they may be lacking academically, they actually possess skills not covered by the bit of paper they clutch in their hand, may attend interviews more successfully and have a better chance of entering a workplace that is right for them.

Having worked with David for a number of years I can say there is no one more passionate about assisting those in education develop students' skills to their maximum potential. This is not about nurturing future designers, far from it. It would be great to welcome other professions onto the platform, using similar programmes to Interaction, and look forward to the day when these types of initiatives are embraced by all teachers, rather than being seen by some as a threat to their own profession.
Ian Nairn Jr
#12 Posted by Ian Nairn Jr on 17 Apr 2015 at 21:12 PM
If he can teach architectural students basic drawing etiquette that would be a result. I work with many young architects who, unleashed in the real world, seem incapable of putting a coherent drawing together.

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