Learning curve

Graeme Fisher, partner, GAJ education team, discusses the need for classrooms that are flexible enough to handle multiple learning and changes in technology

As the UAE celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, GAJ looks back on designing some of the country’s most iconic education establishments, from Dubai College and Bradenton Academy, to Sharjah Arts Academy, Sharjah Institute of Technology and the School of Business Management at the American University of Sharjah.

It recently signed three contracts for two schools in Qatar and Jumeirah School, Dubai. Graeme Fisher is the partner responsible for the practice’s education team. He has had a range of experience working with schools, colleges and universities in the design and delivery of education projects.

His career began in the south east Asian Sultanate of Brunei, where he worked on the first international school to be built in the country, Jerudong International School. On completion of this project, he returned to London in 1997 and joined international firm Sheppard Robson. Having designed and delivered the award winning Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence, he was promoted to sector director in charge of delivery of all education projects in 2004.

Whilst he was responsible for the delivery of schools, F.E and H.E projects he specifically led the practice’s schools group and worked with a number of Local Education Authorities to provide design advice in the lead up to the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programmes. Fisher joined GAJ in Dubai in 2006 and became a partner in 2007.

“We focus on creating an environment that engages pupils, teachers, young artists, designers and scholars through the surroundings within which they study,” he said. “Schools are not only educational facilities, but places where students grow, play, socialise and share.

By studying how young people learn and interact, we design classrooms flexible enough to handle multiple learning methodologies, technology changes, and environmental influences, such as light and acoustics, whilst allowing users to feel comfortable in informal gathering spaces.”

For each individual project, GAJ will establish a clear set of guidelines and objectives to identify a school’s specific needs. For example, it created a facility for 3,380 students in Qatar from Foundation Stage up to Grade 12 encompassing a multi-purpose indoor sports hall, library, art spaces and specialist labs.

It based this around the concept of a “street” that acts as the heart of the school where students interact and congregate and walk to various lessons. The street also opens onto the football pitch and outdoor spaces, creating a synergy between the two.

“Our process of defining clear objectives develops an effective line of communication among the design team, educators and administration staff and helps to establish strong support for the project,” added Fisher.

“It encompasses a number of workshop meetings with committee members, and direct input from faculty heads and teaching staff, culminating with a specification and schematic design which reflects the project’s individual needs.”

GAJ believes it is of equal importance to maintain this user involvement through the detailed working drawings phase as well as the construction period to ensure the completed building meets the required criteria.

“We are committed to creating completed designs that reflect our client’s individual needs. We will take as much care to design the external envelope of the school and outdoor campus spaces as we do with the interiors,” said Fisher.

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