Building For The Future

Issue 58

Suzanne Blair, associate director at GT3 Architects in Newcastle, is heading up a team dedicated to the education sector.

Suzanne joined the company three years ago and is one of four associate directors. She heads up a studio team of architects, technologists and graduates and has recently taken on the role of education lead to help the practice’s expansion in the education sector.

“GT3 is known for its outstanding work in leisure, workplace and property and we now have our sights set on showcasing our abilities in the education sector. My extensive experience in this area, having worked in both primary and secondary through into further education, coupled with GT3’s well-established design methodology, based around engagement and strategic briefing with key stakeholders and users, means I am well-equipped to lead my team and leave a stamp on the sector.

My experience spans from the days of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) with Denton Community College, Manchester, through the academies framework with North Shore Academy, Stockton and onto the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSPB) with Midlands Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and includes more bespoke one-off projects, such as Thomas Deacon Junior Academy in Peterborough.

“I’m not alone, we also have Paul Reed, associate director and Simon Robertson and Jonny Flavin both senior architects, who, between them, have worked on projects including Sunderland Beacon of Light, Redcar and Cleveland 14-19 Centres and Newcastle Futures UTC. On the technical side, we have Neil Hardy, associate, who has decades of experience in the technical delivery of education projects including Ercall Wood Technology College, Telford and projects for Newcastle University.

“Our expansive leisure and community experience equips us well as we venture in this new direction as we are seeing more and stronger links between education, leisure and community offerings. In the leisure world we have worked with both private and local authority clients all over the UK and we worked extremely closely with each of them to deliver a people-focused result. It starts with tailored engagement to understand the unique vision for the project – the ‘why are we here’. This gives us a solid foundation on which to develop a detailed brief and, ultimately, the design response. The same approach fits seamlessly into educational design where there are multiple stakeholders and users with very different needs and ideas.

“GT3’s approach is ‘People Architecture’, a concept that positions people, not buildings, at the heart of our projects. A huge asset to the team is environmental psychologist, Carys Thomas-Osborne, who is an expert at observing spaces and understanding how their design can affect how people behave. She is integrated into our project teams to ensure this knowledge and understanding is used to inform the design from an early stage. Wellbeing is fundamental to education, as not everyone learns in the same way and therefore people react in varying ways to building design and layout. For example, the scale of spaces, how open or enclosed they feel, lighting and even colour all influence our reactions, mood and behaviour. This all needs to be taken into consideration as it ultimately has an impact on how individuals learn. By working closely with our clients, we will help them to deliver an exceptional education to their students.

“What makes us different is that we appreciate that a building is only as good as the space it creates to inspire the people inside of it. We have developed Performance +, a strategic briefing and engagement service that enables clients to understand, articulate and optimise the relationship between their people, processes and property, in this case their staff and students, operations and the buildings themselves. With an emphasis on listening, learning, leading and sharing, Performance + helps to deliver sustainable value through a transformation in the way students learn and how space can be used. This allows us to deliver a space that motivates and stimulates the teachers and students by focusing on engagement and understanding that they are the experts in teaching and learning and our role is to interpret their requirements.”

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