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Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > Art for Social Spaces > Case Studies > Schools
 
SCHOOLS

Introduction

This section will explore sculpture commissioned for schools or sited in or on school buildings, mainly during the 1950s and 1960s. It will focus on work produced for Hertfordshire and Leicestershire education authorities, both pioneering patrons committed to promoting and acquiring contemporary art. Independently, you will need to consult texts and weblinks for further information and discussion. The study aims to raise questions about the contribution made by this kind of ‘public sculpture’ to social welfare and its relationship to developments in architecture and education in the decades after the war.
 
Overview

Background
 
Primary School, Kingswood Drive, London SE21 ASS00141 Primary School, Kingswood Drive, London SE21

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Wokingham Secondary Modern School ASS00133 Wokingham Secondary Modern School

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English school-building…was the fullest expression of the movement for a social architecture in Britain which gathered pace in the 1930s and found its outlet in the service of the post-war welfare state. No more ambitious, disciplined, self-conscious or far-reaching application of the concept of architecture as social service can be found in any western country.
Andrew Saint, Towards a Social Architecture, The Role of School Building in Post-War England, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1987, p. ix.
 
Saint is emphatic in his view that the building of new schools was an integral component of the post-war package of social reforms. In his comprehensive study, he acknowledges the technical, organisational and production problems that affected the post-war school-building programme. Remarkably though, Saint notes that despite slender resources, a new school was completed every day between 1950 and 1970.

The impetus for creating new schools was varied : factors included the 1944 Education Act, the raising of the school-leaving age to 15 in 1947, the post-war ‘baby boom’ and an inheritance of a motley assortment of inadequate and outmoded Victorian schools - many of which were bomb-damaged - that had been designed for an authoritarian regime based on rote-learning in large classes.
 
Interior of a school - old style classrooms ASS00102 Interior of a school - old style classrooms

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Interior of a school - old style classrooms ASS00103 Interior of a school - old style classrooms

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The scale of the task facing the new Ministry of Education was spelt out in a government leaflet issued to parents – ‘Our Changing Schools – a Picture for Parents 1950’. The pamphlet featured rosy accounts of school life and boasts of funds spent on new schemes. It is clear though that it was also responding to criticism at the slow pace of change. It warns of the ‘huge national task’ of trying to recruit and train teachers and to build and equip schools.

Despite the difficulties, there is plenty of evidence that innovative and progressive educational thinking, modern design and experimental architecture informed the new school environment.
 
Arcon School Classroom Unit ASS00100 Arcon School Classroom Unit

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Kidbrooke School, Corelli Road, London SE3 ASS00184 Kidbrooke School, Corelli Road, London SE3

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Kidbrooke School, Corelli Rd, London SE3 ASS00136 Kidbrooke School, Corelli Rd, London SE3

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Kidbrooke School, Corelli Rd, London SE3 ASS00137 Kidbrooke School, Corelli Rd, London SE3

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More than any other modern programme of building, the English schools fulfilled Walter Gropius’s ideals about an architecture which should be simple, practical, universal and imaginative.…practically none was built to a uniform pattern, and most enjoyed space, facilities and a quality of environment unimagined before the war.
Saint, ibid., p. ix.
 
Tulse Hill School, Lambeth, south front ASS00130 Tulse Hill School, Lambeth, south front

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Tulse Hill School, Lambeth ASS00143 Tulse Hill School, Lambeth

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Tulse Hill School, Lambeth ASS00142 Tulse Hill School, Lambeth

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Eltham Green School hallway ASS00118 Eltham Green School hallway

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In a recent contextualising study of schools architecture, Dudek makes similar points,
 
Accommodating new generations of schoolchildren in the 1930s and 1940s would require large institutional buildings with multi-functional spaces to match complex social and academic aspirations. The architecture, like the pedagogic philosophy, was seen as an instrument for social change rather than solidification (of the existing social status) as had been the Victorian vision for mass education. The buildings were to be democratic and open reflections of the new societies aspired to by British politicians and educationalists such as Henry Morris, Secretary for Education at Cambridge County Council.
M. Dudek, Architecture of Schools, The New Learning Environments, Architectural Press, London, 2000, p. 25.
 
In an international setting, Dudek discusses the modernist work of architects such as Alvar Aalto, Denys Lasdun, Erno Goldfinger and others. Important British examples include Hunstanton School in Norfolk, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson and completed in 1954. One of the earliest examples of modernist school architecture in Britain was Impington Community College in Cambridgeshire, designed by Walter Gropius and Max Fry – and commissioned in the 1930s by the forward-thinking educationalist, Henry Morris.

The kind of radical ideas embodied in Morris’s community college – a modern spacious building with facilities open to all regardless of age – were supported and developed by Herbert Read who played a key role in promoting art education and extending interest in contemporary art in schools.
 
Mayfield Secondary School, Putney ASS00126 Mayfield Secondary School, Putney

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School hallway ASS00117 School hallway

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Read was a founder member of the Society for Education in Art (SEA). Its members believed that art had a vital role to play in education. In Education through Art, first published in 1943, Read emphasised the importance of the architectural environment as well as the art objects within it, in creating centres for learning. The book was particularly influential on post-war progressive educationalists.

Events and exhibits at the Festival of Britain in 1951 – such as those in the New Schools Pavilion on the South Bank and at the ‘Live Architecture’ exhibition at Lansbury - demonstrated concerns to create new kinds of learning environments and to foster a social role for education.
 
Display title from New Schools Section; Festival of Britain, South Bank Exhibition ASS00237 Display title from New Schools Section; Festival of Britain, South Bank Exhibition

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“New Schools” Pavilion, display “Choice Before Children”; Festival of Britain, South Bank Exhibition ASS00236 “New Schools” Pavilion, display “Choice Before Children”; Festival of Britain, South Bank Exhibition

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General view , “New Schools” Pavilion; Festival of Britain, South Bank Exhibition ASS00235 General view , “New Schools” Pavilion; Festival of Britain, South Bank Exhibition

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Live Achitecture Exhibit at Lansbury, Festival of Britain ASS00263 Live Achitecture Exhibit at Lansbury, Festival of Britain

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What kinds of values do the images in the preceding sections embody?

What kind of readings and interpretations can you bring to modern/modernist school design of the early post-war years?
 
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Hertfordshire

In the early post-war years, Hertfordshire had a rapidly rising young population, partly accommodated in satellite ‘new towns’ such as Stevenage.
 
'Joy ride' by Franta Belsky,1957-58 ASS00966 'Joy ride' by Franta Belsky,1957-58

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In Hertfordshire, 100 new schools were built by 1954 and another 100 by 1961. The Chief Education Officer, John Newsom, convinced the county authorities to allott funds for new artworks. As a result, Hertfordshire schools acquired and commissioned works by contemporary artists for many of its schools. Barclay School in Stevenage, completed in 1949, was the first secondary school to be built in Hertfordshire after the war. Its modern design was complimented by a bronze family group by Henry Moore and other integral artworks, including a mural by Kenneth Rowntree.
 
Stevenage Secondary Modern School ASS00125 Stevenage Secondary Modern School

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Staircase in classroom block ASS00121 Staircase in classroom block

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Stevenage Secondary Modern School ASS00099 Stevenage Secondary Modern School

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Stevenage Secondary Modern School - ground floor foyer with mural by Kenneth Rowntree ASS00122 Stevenage Secondary Modern School - ground floor foyer with mural by Kenneth Rowntree

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Stevenage Secondary Modern School ASS00144 Stevenage Secondary Modern School

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 Barclay School - family group by Henry Moore, 1945-1949 ASS00963 Barclay School - family group by Henry Moore, 1945-1949

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Exterior of Barclay School, Stevenage showing Henry Moore's family group sculpture in situ ASS00964 Exterior of Barclay School, Stevenage showing Henry Moore's family group sculpture in situ

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What social message – if any – does the Moore sculpture have?

How does it relate to his other work?
 
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Leicestershire

Leicestershire education authority was progressive on various fronts – in 1969, it was one of the first to establish a fully comprehensive system and it was a pioneering patron of contemporary art. Many of the new schools in the 1950s and 1960s were built to experimental designs and incorporated commissioned artwork for interiors and exteriors. The Chief Education Officer, Stuart Mason, played a key role in this, championing ‘child-centred’ education with a strong emphasis on the creative arts.

New sculptures were commissioned for many of the new schools.
A Hungarian émigré sculptor, Peter Peri, carried out a large number of commissions for Leicestershire. His use of a modern cheap material – coloured concrete - was especially appropriate.
 
‘Bank Holiday’ by Peter Peri ASS00497 ‘Bank Holiday’ by Peter Peri

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Although concrete was not a new building material, it was increasingly being used for diverse purposes – some decorative, some functional.
 
Solid Panel Fencing ASS00180 Solid Panel Fencing

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“Screen Walls of Pierced Concrete” by Cement and Concrete Association ASS00262 “Screen Walls of Pierced Concrete” by Cement and Concrete Association

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Peri used this industrial medium to create a series of ‘horizontal-reliefs’ which were made ‘in situ’ on buildings.
 
‘Sunbathers’ by Peter Peri
ASS00495 ‘Sunbathers’ by Peter Peri

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The critic, John Berger championed Peri’s work for its humanism, its accessibility – and its ‘social realist’ style.
 
In the past, one of the reasons why Peri has not had the success he deserves is that his work has unusually been seen…in the hedonistic atmosphere of London ‘culture’ where his cheerful lack of elegance has been mistaken for inept clumsiness. But here, his works modelled in concrete on brick walls beside a football field or a gymnasium, he comes into his own…he is not the least illustrative, and has the sculptural energy of an artist like Zadkine.
John Berger, ‘Artists and Schools’, in New Statesman, 27 July 1957, Vol. 54, No. 1375, p. 81.
 
Study examples of Peri’s work in Leicestershire
 
‘Two children calling a dog’ by Peter Peri, c. 1956 ASS00632 ‘Two children calling a dog’ by Peter Peri, c. 1956

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One of Peter Peri's three relief concrete panels of 'Children Playing', c. 1955 ASS00634 One of Peter Peri's three relief concrete panels of 'Children Playing', c. 1955

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'Man’s Mastery of the Atom' by Peter Peri ASS00635 'Man’s Mastery of the Atom' by Peter Peri

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'The Spirit of Technology’ by Peter Peri ASS00636 'The Spirit of Technology’ by Peter Peri

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'Folk Dancing' by Peter Peri,1956 ASS00637 'Folk Dancing' by Peter Peri,1956

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Look at the other images provided of work created for schools by other artists and for other authorities, including both figurative and abstract sculptures.
 
'Pisces' by Willi Soukop ASS00633 'Pisces' by Willi Soukop

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'3b Series no.1' by Bernard Schottlander ASS00630 '3b Series no.1' by Bernard Schottlander

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'Dunstable Reel' by Phillip King ASS00631 'Dunstable Reel' by Phillip King

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Questions/Discussion

What roles did work by contemporary artists have in the school environment?

What forms, materials and themes did artists employ?

How did these relate to the work they produced for other sites or purposes?

Can you relate the schools work to the broader aesthetic and critical debates of the time?
 
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Images

The following images directly relate to schools :
 
Catford Secondary Girls School ASS00145 Catford Secondary Girls School

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Stackback chairs ASS00120 Stackback chairs

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You might also want to search the Image Archive for other work by artists who made work for schools or for images which have other references to education/schools.
 
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Texts

Roger Armfelt, Our Changing Schools – A Picture for Parents, HMSO, London 1950

John Berger, ‘Artists and Schools’, New Statesman, 27 July 1957

M. Dudek, Architecture of Schools, The New Learning Environments, Architectural Press, London, 2000

Mervyn Levy, ‘Pionnering Patronage for Schools : British Art in Lecestershire’, Studio, September 1963, Vol. 166, No. 845, pp. 92-97.

Ministry of Education, The Story of Post-War School-Building, HMSO, London, 1957

Eric Pearson, Trends in School Design : British Primary Schools Today, Macmillan, London, 1972

Herbert Read, Education through Art, [first pub.1943,], Faber & Faber, London, 1956

E. Rosenberg, Art and Architecture in Great Britain Since 1945, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992. (See chapter on ‘Schools and Colleges’).

Andrew Saint, Towards a Social Architecture, The Role of School Building in Post-War England, Yale University Press, New Haven / London, 1987

M. Seaborne, Primary School Design, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1971

Colin Ward, (ed.), British School Buildings, Designs and Appraisals 1964-74, Architectural Press, London, 1976

British Sculpture and Painting in the Collection of the Leicestershire Education Authority, (ex. cat.), Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, in collaboration with Loughborough University of Technology, Dec-Jan 1967/68
 
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