Design research

Collaborative PHD Supervisors with Cambridge University Faculty of Education

Three Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) studies supervised between Dr Catherine Burke, historian of education in the Faulty of Education at the University of Cambridge and Dominic Cullinan, architect and Director of SCABAL specialising in school design.

Each study gains from partnership between academia and practice, connecting with a variety of perspectives and experience within the Faculty of Education, the University of Cambridge and the wider academic community, as well as within SCABAL and the wider professional and other communities of architecture, the built environment and education.

Doctoral students, Emma Dyer, Karolina Szynalska and Tom Bellfield tread their own individual paths that both intertwine and diverge along many tangents, benefitting from these close collaborations.

All three studies are funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under their CDA scheme, whose guidance explicitly states the requirement for research to emerge from genuine collaborations of mutual benefit.

Emma Dyer

Emma’s research centres on the architecture and design of reading spaces in schools. She is interested in where readers read in schools and, in particular, how beginner readers can be supported to learn to read in the school environment through the design of reading spaces. Her research also examines how design methodologies can critically interrogate educational paradoxes and problems. As part of her doctoral studies, Emma has co-designed a reading nook with SCABAL architects and, with sponsorship from Jenx and Galliford Try, is investigating ways in which children and their teachers explore and control this space for reading in two London primary schools.

Emma also co-curates a popular blog that looks at the complexities of lived school design.

Karolina Szynalska

Space and Learning“Creative discipline with SCABAL Architects: The value of design in building high quality schools supporting excellence in teaching and learning”

The principal aim of Karolina’s study is to explore what insights an evolutionary approach to the subject of school design can afford policy makers, educators and architects. It is inspired by SCABAL Architects’ on-going work considering collaborative learning in urban schools and their innovative approach to pedagogically informed design. It explores the relationship between the students’ engagement in learning and the spatial affordances of several recently completed urban secondary schools. It employs the Experience Sampling Method (ESM). The ESM is administered by a bespoke tablet application.

During the study the KS3 pupils are signalled several times a day during ten school days to record their subjective experience with regards to their activities and the space they occupy. This protocol is followed by interviews, and complemented by building analysis and photographic surveys. The procedure gathers both quantitative and qualitative data that allows the assessment of the compatibility between the buildings and the pedagogies they host, examining how particular spatial organisations might be congruent to collaborative and cooperative learning, which may also inspire future design interventions.

Tom Bellfield

Tom’s current research centres on exploring the use of design as a means to generate and support conversations between individuals, within schools, about education: its many purposes and practices, including the diverse ways in which different people learn (the whys and hows); the material space in which it takes place, including both physical and sensory qualities (the wheres); as well as the relations between these three elements – between the whys, hows, and wheres.

The research approach taken draws on Caroline Gatt and Tim Ingold’s methodology ‘anthropology by means of design’, which considers the products, ideas, and relationships produced through the researcher’s active participation in fieldwork to be at least equal in value to the documentary evidence produced after – especially to those involved.

Guided by this approach the research activities can be categorised into three parts: first, the development of and active participation in two participatory design projects, situated in a primary and secondary school respectively; second, the observation and analysis of the happenings that unfold during each project, as well as the products and relationships formed through them; and third, the sourcing and study of related literature and research including interviews with –broadly speaking – practitioners of participatory design, whether in education, architecture, academia, or other.

Overall, the research can be situated within the borderlands of education and architecture; its purpose to expand our understanding of participatory design and the social and educational roles it might play within the context of primary and secondary education.

Service: PHD Supervisor

Location: Cambridge / London

Client: AHRC

Cost: £tbc

Dates: 2014-2020

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