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Consultation key to good brief
Lee Mansfield

“In our experience, the level of consultation with the ‘end users’ differs greatly according to the Local Education Authority (LEA). We see full consultation as the only way to obtain a clear brief but at the same time, good technical advice should be on hand to steer the process and manage the individual expectations. By this we mean that all stakeholders – including the Local Authority, schools, Heads, departments, teachers, students and parents – should be made aware of the technical and budgetary implications of their requests in order that informed decisions can be made by the team as a whole and priorities set.
At Parkside School in Bradford, full consultations were held with the school and the local council. One outcome from these discussions was the need for a central social area for the school. This resulted in


the integration of the dining facilities with the main circulation and student entrance in the form of an atrium. This not only served as the social area requested but also negated the use of corridors and reduced the feeling of an institutional environment. It also serves as the main 'wayfinding' beacon within the school and acts as the breakout space for the Main Hall situation directly adjacent.
In many cases, certainly with regard to some of the current BSF programmes in which we are bidding, the level of consultation expected from the Preferred Bidder is very high. The Construction Industry Council (CIC) in conjunction with the DfES, designed the Design Quality Indicator (DQI) for Schools which is a tool kit used to aid the briefing process and consultations with all stakeholders and has been utilised by LEAs on an increasing scale since its introduction in 2005. The DQI is basically a scorecard which can be used as both a prompt and a consistent benchmarking tool for determining the key criteria within individual projects and then evaluating the design against these criteria as it develops.
Although this creates quite a structured process it does help to refine the brief in a logical manner and, if used correctly (and with the correct guidance), can help prioritise the variety of subjective information into clear, key requirements. It has the added benefit of allowing staff and pupils to utilise this information to assess their existing schools’ level of design. The information and experience gained from this exercise


could then be used to inform the briefing process for their new facility.
However, whether or not this toolkit is used is irrelevant. What is important is the method and management in which the views of all stakeholder groups are obtained. This should ensure that individual ‘whims’ are differentiated from the over-riding fundamental requirements, and that it is these requirements which form the basis of the design.
With regard to affordability, this brings the question of BB98 and how relevant these DfES guidelines are for the current and future methods of teaching. It has been agreed that there must be a starting point. However, until there is a clear indication as to the degree of flexibility able to be applied to these guidelines, constant battles could flare up between the powers that are allocated, those that control the budgets and the individual needs of the schools. At present we can only apply some innovation within these guidelines.”

Lee Mansfield is Associate Director of SMC DTR UK



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