Newlands Primary Community school refurb

We recently completed this scheme working with Leicestershire County Council and Willmott Dixon Construction. Newlands Primary school relocated to an existing 1930s school site which had a transformational refurbishment to provide the school with a new home.

Refurbishment projects are often harder to resolve for an interior designer than a new build as you’re trying to tune in to the existing building architecture (rather lovely 1930s period in this case) , strip away the build up of years of detritus and develop a new overarching vision for the scheme. At the same time its important to work with the incoming school to carry over ideas and themes they’ve been using on their old site but at the same time refresh and in some cases re-direct. When it works the results are astonishing.


Biophilic design – some thoughts

There’s a new phrase being used which some people might not be familiar with; Biophilia or biophilic design.

The term ‘biophilia’ means “love of life or living systems.” It was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. Wilson uses the term in the same sense when he suggests that biophilia describes “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” He proposed the possibility that the deep affiliations humans have with other life forms and nature as a whole are rooted in our biology.

An extract from PATTERNS OF BIOPHILIC DESIGN – Improving Health & Well-Being in the Built Environment (you can read more here) gives a useful insight;

Biomorphic Forms & Patterns has evolved from research on view preferences (Joye, 2007), reduced stress due to induced shift in focus, and enhanced concentration. We have a visual preference for organic and biomorphic forms but the science behind why this is the case is not yet formulated. While our brain knows that biomorphic forms and patterns are not living things, we may describe them as symbolic representations of life (Vessel, 2012).

Nature abhors right angles and straight lines; the Golden Angle, which measures approximately 137.5 degrees, is the angle between successive florets in some flowers, while curves and angles of 120 degrees are frequently exhibited in other elements of nature (e.g., Thompson, 1917).

The Fibonacci series (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…) is a numeric sequence that occurs in many living things, plants especially. Phyllotaxy, or the spacing of plant leaves, branches and flower petals (so that new growth doesn’t block the sun or rain from older growth) often follows in the Fibonacci series. Related to the Fibonacci series is the Golden Mean (or Golden Section), a ratio of 1:1.618 that surfaces time and again among living forms that grow and unfold in steps or rotations, such as with the arrangement of seeds in sunflowers or the spiral of seashells.

Biomorphic forms and patterns have been artistically expressed for millennia, from adorning ancient temples to more modern examples like Hotel Tassel in Brussels (Victor Horta, 1893) and the structures of Gare do Oriente in Lisbon (Santiago Calatrava, 1998). More intriguing still is the architectural expression of mathematical proportions or arrangements that occur in nature, the meaning of which has been fodder for philosophical prose since Aristotle and Euclid. Many cultures have used these mathematical relationships in the construction of buildings and sacred spaces. The Egyptian Pyramids, the Parthenon (447-438 BC), Notre Dame in Paris (beginning in 1163), the Taj Mahal in India (1632–1653), the CN Tower in Toronto (1976), and the Eden Project Education Centre in Cornwall, UK (2000) are all alleged to exhibit the Golden Mean.

As designers we’re seeing the possibilities of implementing these ideas in lots of areas. This is being increasingly supported by manufacturers such as Interface, manufacturer of flooring products, who’ve been championing Biophilia in their product ranges for some time.

For finishes in general these areas can include;

• Fabrics, carpet, wallpaper designs based on Fibonacci series or Golden Mean

• Window details: trim and mouldings, glass colour, texture, mullion design, window reveal detail

• Installations and free-standing sculptures

• Furniture details

• Acoustic paneling (wall or ceiling)

• Wall decal, paint style or texture

At a larger scale many designers are looking at;

• The arrangement of the structural system (e.g., columns shaped like trees)

• The building form

• Railings, banisters, fencing, gates

• Window details: frit, light shelves, fins

We’re currently working on an interior scheme for a new build special school in Leicestershire. Part of the wayfinding strategy is to zone areas of the building with super graphics. These patterns are based on natural mathematical forms found in nature and are being expressed as large super graphic applied on walls around the building. One of the reasons for using this approach aside from the natural theme benefits it will bring to the building is that recent studies have shown that children on the autism spectrum are good at recognising pattern.

Brain regions associated with recognising patterns tend to light up more in autistic people than the general population, perhaps explaining why those with autism often excel at visual tasks.

A new study published in the journal ‘Human Brain Mapping’ says;

The studies provide evidence that people with autism tend to perform strongly on visual tasks , said researcher Laurent Mottron of the Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders at the University of Montreal. Mottron goes on to say, “people with autism have larger visual activity, something that’s already known at a behavioural level to some extent”.

Researchers analysed 26 brain imaging studies that included 357 people with autism and 370 people without autism. In all imaging studies, regardless of the research design or task presented to the study participants, the temporal and occipital brain regions had increased brain activity compared with non-autistic people.

“It means that the autistic brain is reorganised, but it’s not reorganised in a disorganised way,” Mottron said. “It’s reorganised in the sense of favouring visual expertise.”

The studies focused on people with less severe autism. Autism spectrum disorders affect about 1 percent of children ages 3 to 17, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism hinders people’s ability to sense social cues and interact normally with others.

The study results show that in order to improve symptoms of people with autism, “we have to do it in their way” by building on the natural properties of their brains, Mottron said.

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Birkett House concepts

Finding your way to Mount Grace

Mount Grace wayfinding

We’ve recently been appointed by Leicestershire County Council to develop the interiors for the Mount Grace/ Holliers Walk refurb primary school scheme. Its been interesting to reflect on the change in focus compared to schemes that we were delivering 10 years ago. Now wayfinding is the first thing that we develop alongside the colour palette. Conversations with the school about how the building will be used and the flow around the space are all key elements in creating a successful wayfinding scheme. Obviously in a primary school there isn’t much need for actual signage but using colour and graphics to zone areas is critical.

The initial elevations show some early thoughts but these will in time be developed much more fully into a coherent wayfinding scheme.

Bushloe ‘Stream’ digital banner

bushloe banner elevation

bushloe banner

bushloe banner detailWe worked with Bushloe High school to create this giant banner for their atrium space. The banner measured almost 40 metres in running length and was approximately 4 metres high. The ‘stream’ developed initially from conversations with the architect about external roof edge details which curved sinuously along their length. This was developed in the context of the school’s own ideas about the journey students took through their school career and was further reinforced with an actual stream running the entire length of the atrium (with a glass walkway!) that we also designed for the space. Students who took part in the workshops used traditional art skills as well as scanning and photography techniques to build up a resource book of images and textures that eventually found their way into the final artwork.


Albert Village Primary school banner commission

albert village_banner72

Here’s one from the archives! A digital acoustic banner commission for Albert Village Primary school in Leicestershire completed in April 2012.

We had a call from the architects in Leicestershire County Council Property Services to put us in touch with the school to help solve the problem of a big blank wall. The solution was this acoustic banner which both helped to animate the space but also solved the acoustic problems in that area. Eric Klein Velderman ran workshops with the pupils to collect and develop ideas for the banner which were then digitally composited into the final artwork.

The banner references both the eco environment that the school were trying to encourage as well as the former pit mining activities that took place in the area. In fact there’s a pit wheel just outside the school. If you look carefully you can just make out the outline of the pit wheel in the banner based on photographs taken by some of the young people and converted into vector artwork. The artwork also includes mini leaf artworks that the pupils created with the artist; these were the result of collecting leaves and then making selective arrangements based on size, colour and shape which were then photographed so that they could be used in the banner.

After the work was completed the school said;

“The banner is brilliant thank you, everyone that has seen it is amazed that the children helped to create it”

Enough said…



Wreake Valley College refurb


We’ve been commissioned to assist Wreake Valley Community College ( WVCC) in a phased refurbishment programme of their unusual school.

WVCC is an 11-19 co-educational school in Syston, Leicestershire, England. Despite its ship-like appearance, the building was actually inspired by ziggurats and is now a listed building.

The first phase of the refurb programme will concentrate on refreshing the 6th Form base and a sample classroom. Cantoo will be developing an overall interior scheme for the whole school which will be rolled out in subsequent years as funding becomes available.

An initial survey and development of mood boards will be taking place during November and December of this year with works to start in the Easter 2012 break.

George Ward Community Centre new build

Barwell treePlans are progressing with the George Ward Centre in Barwell. Despite the snow the steel structure is up and the building is taking shape. We’ve been meeting with members of the Steering Committee to agree floor and wall finishes as well as the furniture layouts. The tree image shown which is part of the centre’s new identity and will be used for an entrance glazing manifestation design.

See more here

Longfield High school take delivery of Wave seats

Longfield school wave

Wave seatLongfield school have ordered six of our exciting Wave seats to enhance their atrium space. The Wave seats have been designed for both interior and exterior uses in any commercial, retail and residential setting. The seat was shortlisted for the BdI Industry & Genius Awards 2007. The curved seat is manufactured from polished GRP ( glass resin plastic) and is available in any RAL colour.

See more here