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Clive Fenton, Schools in Scotland (2008)


Kilsyth Academy | Thurso Technical Secondary School | Duncanrig School


Kilsyth Academy, Corrie Road, Balmalloch, Kilsyth, Stirlingshire. (Originally known as the Scottish School of Art & Industry)

Architects: Rowand Anderson & Paul & Partners/ Basil Spence & Partners (Partner in charge: Basil Spence followed by Bruce Robertson then Peter Ferguson. Job architect at outset: Bruce Robertson. Sculpture: Tom Whalen.

Clients: Stirlingshire County Council, in consultation with the Council for Art and Industry.

After more than 12 months of work on the design, construction commenced in May 1939, but was halted after the outbreak of war. The design was amended in 1946 and construction recommenced in phases. The school was in use by 1953, with the official opening in 1954, but Peter Ferguson claimed that the architects did not attain final disengagement until 1958.

This secondary school of the “finger plan” type, in an Art Deco style, occupies a prominent hilltop site overlooking the valley of Kilsyth.

Accommodation, as per the 1946 scheme, consisted of 15 classrooms, two gymnasia, an assembly hall, wood and metal workshops, art studios, science teaching laboratories, domestic science rooms, library, film room, swimming bath, staff rooms and offices, and a caretaker’s house.

The building is of one and two storeys, with a clock tower providing a vertical feature. Construction was a partly of brick cavity walls externally roughcast, or with natural stone cladding. Reinforced concrete, with brick infill was used for certain sections, which allowed one of the gymnasia to have a glass gable. Window frames were metal. A golden coloured terrazzo was used extensively for interior walls, cills and some floors. Other floors were concrete, hardwood, or timber with linoleum.

The project was largely instigated by the Council for Art & Industry, with the intention of creating a progressive new teaching environment. The ultimate aim of this was to improve the quality of the nation’s industrial output by appropriate education of the workforce. Spence was principal designer, assisted by Bruce Robertson, and the pair took the job with them when they left Rowand Anderson & Paul to set up their own practice in 1946. The latest “News Chronicle” type plan was employed by the architect. This meant a layout of low buildings arranged about spinal corridors promising fresh air and sunlight for the pupils. The building had got up to about first floor level when the war halted construction. However, wartime education reform resulted in new building regulations for schools in 1945. These regulations meant that each class should have a classroom of its own. Each secondary school was also to have a dining and kitchen block, and standards of natural lighting were to be improved. Current thinking on schools also made it highly desirable to have separate gymnastic halls for boys and girls and a swimming pool. This meant amendments and extension to the scheme, which explains the protracted length of the contract. To bring the design up to current standards, and increase the population from 450 to 700, an assembly hall was added beside the main entrance and a dining hall and kitchen block grafted onto the westernmost part of the original layout. An additional single-storey wing containing gymnasium and classrooms was added to the north. This was connected to the rest of the complex by a covered way. The daylighting provision of the original scheme was adequate and needed no adjustment because of the low building height and the clerestorey windows of the classrooms permitting additional light from the glazed corridors.

The extended nature of the contract resulted in an interesting blend of styles; the Festival Style assembly hall juxtaposed with the Art Deco clock tower, which features a relief sculpture representing education by sculptor Tom Whalen. A model of the school was featured in the New Schools exhibition in Glasgow, organised by the Council of Industrial Design, in 1948, and Spence’s perspective exhibited at the RSA in 1949.

Although the building still looks impressive from a distance, it has suffered from lack of maintenance and there have been alterations. An additional east wing, by other architects, was added in the later 1960s.

Thurso Technical Secondary School, Ormelie Road, Thurso, Caithness

Architects: Basil Spence and Partners, consulting architects, in collaboration with William Wilson, Caithness County Architect, (Partner in charge: Hardie Glover. Job architects: David Bain, Ian Cook). Client: Thurso County Council

The commission for the first phase was received in November 1954, working drawings were being prepared in May 1956 and the official opening was on 15 October 1958. The commission for an extension was given in May 1959.

The school, designed in Festival Style, is set in a campus on the east side of the County Road to the south of Thurso and is surrounded by playing fields.

Accommodation consists of: a 4-storey classroom block, 2-storey Library and general purposes block, 2 storey administration/entrance building, single storey blocks for technical, domestic science, science, kitchen & dining, assembly hall, swimming pool, medical rooms, gymnasium, cycle shed, and a separate single-storey janitor’s house beside the gate.

The construction was principally steel-framed with brick infill. The exteriors being clad with a combination of rock-faced Caithness stone, polished stone, timber boarding, concrete slabs with exposed aggregate, and roughcast render. Stairs are precast concrete, the balustrades steel, and the window frames of Afromosia timber. Roofs are Bison concrete slabs. The central courtyard has a combination of hard and soft landscaping with a pool.

There was extensive use of pine and redwood linings and thermoplastic tile floors in the interior.

The school was conceived in anticipation of the increase in population of the town in connection with the development of the nuclear power station at Dounreay, which was complete in 1959. Its remit was to educate children of staff and future technicians from amongst what was an agricultural labour force. The County Architect had initial responsibility for the school and Spence was brought in as consultant. The climatic conditions at this town, the most northerly on the mainland of Britain were a particular issue and the method of construction etc. was a matter of much discussion between Spence & Partners, the County Architect and the Scottish Education Department. Tendering was also a problem as few contractors were willing to quote for, or undertake a contract at such a remote site. Transportation and accommodation costs being particularly high - the job architects had to fly regularly from Edinburgh to Wick.

The Thurso plan shows a departure from the long and low strung-out arrangement seen at Kilsyth. While the direction of dispersal and sprawl was more generally being reversed in European school planning during the mid-1950s, the harsh climate at Thurso probably had much to do with this design as the contemporary trend. Achieving airiness without draughts had always been a problem with the dispersed plan, with its endless corridors and acres of windows. The winds at Thurso were notorious. Thus, functions were segregated to avoid the noise from workshops and the smells from chemistry or kitchens interfering with study in the classrooms. However, these blocks are huddled together around a central courtyard, while on the south the buildings are grouped to provide a playing court enclosed on three sides. The building height is varied, the grouping deliberately informal, and the blocks are given individual surface treatments, all of which help to lessen the impression of a monolithic institution. This approach was in keeping with the post-war, post Fascist spirit and it demonstrates the great care that was taken with the design.

The building is well maintained and in good condition (2006).

Duncanrig School, Alberta Avenue, Westwood, East Kilbride, Lanarkshire

Architects: Basil Spence & partners (Partner in charge Peter Ferguson. Job architect: Charles Hope). Client: Lanarkshire County Council.

Working drawings are dated from February 1953 and the contract was completed in the summer of 1956.

East Kilbride, 9 miles south of Glasgow, was designated Scotland’s first new town in 1947. The secondary school, designed in the Festival style, was in the Westwood estate south of the Queensway (A726) in the southwestern part of the town.

Accommodation for 850 pupils originally consisted of dining/kitchen block, assembly hall, gymnasium block (with two gyms), staff rooms and offices, 15 classrooms, science teaching labs and rooms for art and crafts, technical, commercial, and domestic science. A boiler house was included.

Construction was steel frame with brick infill, hollow concrete floor beams and load-bearing masonry. Windows were steel-framed in pre-cast concrete sub-frames. External finishes were coursed rubble, cedar boarding and roughcast render.

Duncanrig was the first school for the new town of East Kilbride. It shared some features with other schools by Spence in Scotland and England but its arrangement was singular. The main entrance was off a forecourt flanked by the dining room and administration, and the entrance foyer was glass fronted. This recalled the glass gable of the gymnasium at Kilsyth, while the exposed steelwork, which was partly decorative, is redolent of much of the practice’s exhibition work, including the Sea and Ships pavilion on the South Bank. Beyond this lay the assembly hall, by now an integral part of secondary schools. Like the one at Kilsyth, it was wedge-shaped, double height and had a projection room reached by a spiral staircase. Next were the twin gymnasia, with entirely glazed northern walls. The classrooms were to the right (east) of the entrance foyer. These were within a 3-storey linear block bisected by four transverse two-storey blocks. Clearly there was a move towards a more compact grouping than that of the “News Chronicle” plan as seen at Kilsyth and indeed the majority of schools on green field sites in the 1930s. Interestingly, the contemporary Sydenham School, which was designed by Spence’s London office, has abutting transverse blocks on its north side, though the plan is dissimilar. At Duncanrig, corridor space was minimized in favour of an en-suite arrangement of rooms on the upper floors. This configuration involved more vertical circulation than in the finger-plan layout and each transverse block has its own staircase, cloakroom and entrance hall.

Fire regulations demanded the addition of external stairs on the transverse blocks, however, these white-painted escape stairs fitted in well with the other steelwork, balustrades and window frames, epitomising the Festival Style idiom. Colours and textures were also carefully considered, the external rendering in yellow and blue contrasting with natural stone and timber, while the internal wall of the foyer was completely covered with a mural by William Crosbie representing the aspirations of the children of the new town.

By 2006, the building was in a poor state of repair. The transverse blocks were been partially clad in metal sheeting and the steelwork had rusted. Internally, misguided attempts at fire safety resulted in the removal of timber linings and fire-resistant spraying had practically destroyed Crosbie’s mural. Staircases were boxed in and the cloakrooms, once open to the entrance vestibule, were bricked up. The very specific nature of the internal arrangement was deemed inflexible and ill-suited to current requirements and the building was scheduled for demolition and replacement. This occurred in 2007. 

Kilsyth Academy

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Thurso Technical Secondary School

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Duncanrig School

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