Michael Gove declares war on curves (square corners are OK though)

Bizarre micro-management at its worst, courtesy of Michael Gove.

Now, it’s easy to see why he’s keen to seen if schools can be built at lower costs. It’s also easy to see how a bit more standardisation between different new school designs could reduce costs.

So looking for more standardisation in design? No problem.

Demanding that the cost per square metre of new schools comes in at a lower figure? Quite possibly reasonable, especially given how expensive some recent schools have been.

But instead of simply doing these two things, Michael Gove has gone much further, issuing micro-meddling regulations about exactly how new schools should be designed, even down to the level of banning curved walls (yes, really). The new rules include this stricture:

No curves or ‘faceted’ curves

Corners must all be square. “Orthognal: good! Curve: bad!” is the new Gove battle-cry.

As The Guardian reports:

Peter Clegg, a partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios which has designed more than a dozen schools, said: “It is extraordinarily over-prescriptive and it shows an extreme lack of trust in the architectural and construction professions to deliver schools to budget.

“Why are they not just telling us how much they want to pay per square metre? I can understand them wanting to turn the screw on the budget, but why do they not give architects who understand these things the ability to decide.”

Regulating from Whitehall the shape of corners in every new school across England? Once again, my sympathies are with the political satire writers. How are they going to keep up?

* Mark Pack is Party President and Co-leader of the party. He is editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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  • I hate to say it, but I agree with Gove.

    Try buying furniture that fits curved walls. Flat walls are simply far more practical and will provide far cheaper furnishing costs down the line.

    Also I’s put money on this stipulation coming from an experienced civil servant rather than a minister.

  • Richard Dean 4th Oct '12 - 1:32pm

    Architects are renowned for adding what appear to be minor features that end up increasing costs dramatically. They do it for interest and to be different, for their own job satisfaction as much as for the benefits of users of the eventual creations.

    The excessive costs can happen through the need to employ special skills to construct complicated features, through the extra time and any extra equipment needed on site, and through the disruption this can cause to what would otherwise be a much faster and more efficient construction work schedule.

    It’s probably a lot easier to construct a building with square corners, and so cheaer. Curved corners may just be too expensive in these times of financial constraint.

  • Keith Browning 4th Oct '12 - 2:50pm

    Having been educated in a school which consisted of a brand new two storey box construction AND a newly and beautifully restored Tudor building, which had been ingrained with 400 years of ‘learning’, I believe that the environment for school and work is significant. I later taught in a school where the ‘hut’ classrooms were cold and leaked both rain and wind. The OFSTED inspector said there was no section on his report which dealt with such environmental matters and got very upset when the geography teacher disagreed quite forcefully – gale force 8 if I remember correctly.

    It is also interesting that senior managers/ministers in general do not think that the work/learning environment is important to good productivity. I have heard the same tosh ad infinitum, yet they always have a nice office..!!

    So lets demolish Eton and replace with a three storey square box and have our wonderful banking friends move out from the City to the Slough Trading estate – should be no problem as it is much closer to Heathrow, which seems to be one of their prime concerns.

  • Liberal Neil 4th Oct '12 - 2:51pm

    So on the one hand Gove believes we should encourage Free Schools because he believes in freeing schools from constraints and allowing them the freedom to experiment, on the other he’s telling them how to design their buildings down to the corners?

  • Bill le Breton 4th Oct '12 - 3:15pm

    I am quite surprised that none of you have read Michael Gove’s seminal doctoral thesis “Eye Movements in Reading: Facts and Fallacies”. Published in the Lithuanian Educational Research Journal 2 (4): 187. Which clearly demonstrates the harmful effect of curves on reading performance in the under 7s.

    If you cannot make intelligent remarks may I suggest that you should leave these matters to your elders and betters.

  • Richard Dean 4th Oct '12 - 3:29pm

    To be fair, Mark Pak, the Department for Education website says this is for “Baseline designs – cost and area”. The website describes some baseline designs that have been done. The articloe on the website starts:

    “The baseline designs have been costed and are achievable within the funding allocation. This has been achieved by:”

    The website then lists a few of the features that have made the designs achievable. The “No curves …” is one of these features. It’s not a constraint on what architects may suggest in future. Your inference that this is a design standard that constrains architects in future seems to be completely wrong.

    But then I am frequently wrong too. Perhaps you could check again and provide enlightenment?

  • Richard Dean 4th Oct '12 - 3:32pm

    @Bill le Breton. Is Vince Cable’s PhD thesis available anywhere?

  • Richard Dean 4th Oct '12 - 3:37pm

    @Bill le Breton. Was Michael Gove previously called Stanford E Taylor? How complext this world is!

  • Bill le Breton 4th Oct '12 - 3:51pm

    VC’s PhD thesis? Give me half an hour … 😉

  • Richard Dean 4th Oct '12 - 4:13pm

    I found it! It’s a 600-pager called “Economic integration and the industrialisation of small, developing nations: the case of Central America” and is available online at http://theses.gla.ac.uk/2382/ or http://theses.gla.ac.uk/2382/01/1973cablephd.pdf. Required reading!!!

  • Christine Headley 4th Oct '12 - 9:30pm

    Not that long ago, a local secondary school was rebuilt. (I’m sorry to say I have neither visited it in its previous incarnation or more recently.) As I understand it, Building Schools for the Future demanded that it should feature a lot of curves. No wonder BSF was so expensive. A curving corridor can be seen on its home page

  • I’d rather all kids got to learn in proper structures with right angles than a few lucky ones get curvy buildings and the rest spend significant periods of time in temporary structures which has been the case for many years here, due to the way schools have to be overfull for a number of years before they get funding for building.

  • @Bill le breton. In light of this, it is recommended that all reading and writing should be done from flat pages and flat screens.

    It may be that the harmful effect of curved walls reduce the incidence of unwanted graffiti. Has Gove considered the cost implications?
    It also follows that where we wish to encourage graffiti as an art form, flat walls should be most beneficial.

    All this unnecessary red tape and regulation will only stifle cost-effective building and design innovation!!

  • Richard Dean 11th Oct '12 - 2:28pm

    Simon, isn’t that just a tiny bit naive? Setting a budget always implies limits, even if they’re not mentioned in the budget itself. The actual website wasn’t a restrictive standard anyway, just a description of some designs that have been done.

  • Keir Bourne 14th Oct '12 - 4:29pm

    @ Duncan Stott:
    Have you actually been in a school?: Furniture is not stacked up by the walls. And curved walls aren’t used in classrooms anyway; receptions, outer structure and common rooms are where curved walls are placed.
    I really do not understand why Michael Gove is against curved walls. To micro-manage to this extent is absurd.

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