Dyson School of Design Innovation

Design Education Cleans Up?

B. Salton

Plans for a groundbreaking new school in Bath have recently been approved by the local council. This pioneering specialist school for design and engineering is the dream of Sir James Dyson. Due to open in 2010, ‘The Dyson School of Design Innovation’ (www.dysonschool.com) is part of the wider government scheme to update the way we teach 14-19 year olds.

The 14-19 Reform (www.dcsf.gov.uk/14-19) is a system based on motivating and challenging young people in a different environment from the traditional classroom. The Reform will introduce a diploma system that will strengthen the established GCSE and A-Level qualifications as well as offering choice, flexibility and the opportunity for early specialisation. Dyson’s philosophy for the school compliments the Reform. He states, “If Britain wants to be more than a mere trading partner, we need to create exciting and useful products and technology. And to make this happen we need to start with education.” The aim of the Reform is to create fully supported national scale apprentice systems, encouraged and maintained by ‘Centres of Excellence’. These will be heavily reliant on the participation of local authorities, colleges, schools, local businesses and employers. Engineers from businesses—such as Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Williams F1, Rotork and of course Dyson—will work with students on real projects and go on to act as mentors, offering a path into employment after education.

This is a serious business. The amount of money to build the School is an estimated £25m, £12m of which has been contributed by Dyson himself. The school will be fully equipped with cutting-edge apparatus such as rapid prototyping machines and 3D scanners—facilities often only seen in specialist research labs. Where other tweaks in the educational system have fallen by the wayside, these new centres are being touted as national areas of distinction, they are being pumped full of money and have a serious long term strategic plan.

The building itself has been designed by London-based architectural practice Wilson Eyre (www.wilkinsoneyre.com). The location of the school is in the historical industrial centre of Bath, an area undergoing regeneration; the school will maintain the lower façades of the original building (Stothert and Pitt). The architecture promotes the ideology of the cross-disciplinary nature of the teaching; the workshops will be open-plan and visible rather than at the end of a long dark corridor in the basement of a Victorian annex. There will be a huge central atrium which will be filled with famous prototypes from industry, both successful and otherwise, acting as a constant reminder to the students that failed prototypes are an important part of problem solving and design. Not only is the spatial design forward thinking, but also the structure itself is sustainable. Low energy technology will be used to build it, the reinforced concrete walls aid the passive ventilation (cleaner than power guzzling air conditioning), and the nearby river is being utilised to maintain the ecological heating and cooling systems.

We will have to wait to see how successful the 14-19 Reform will be in general education, but in terms of design I am sure it can only be a success. Design is not best taught or learnt in the rows of a classroom. It is fundamentally about practice, play, problem solving and tactile interaction. With the School of Design Innovation due to open in the next few years, I say the future is bright. Dyson is helping to clean up design education.

Dyson School, Atrium View
Dyson School, Atrium View



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