Hardeep Singh KohliKeppie Design has called for architects to address the gulf between education and practice as it announced Cumnock Academy as the winner of the top prize at the finale of its ‘Interaction’ challenge.

Run in partnership with East Ayrshire Council and Ayrshire College, Interaction was an enterprise education challenge in which seven secondary schools in East Ayrshire participated. The finale was held in the council chambers and was hosted by TV personality and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli.

In November the pupils were challenged to design an inspirational, flexible and open learning space for the new Ayrshire College campus, which is being built on the site of the former Johnnie Walker bottling plant in Kilmarnock and for which Keppie is the delivery architect.  Using the construction project as the basis for the brief, the college has been acting as a client for the students.

David Ross, design director from Keppie and the creator of Interaction, said: “As part of their business and enterprise programmes, the school pupils have been learning skills and attitudes to help prepare them for the world of work. The Interaction project is a great way to develop those skills and to help create the open, interactive and collaborative learning environment the new college is aspiring to be.

“It has been fantastic to see all of the teams’ incredible design ideas. The judging panel of design professionals, educators and leading business people were genuinely speechless at the quality of the ideas and the polished way in which they were presented. The teams from all of the participating schools are an absolute credit to East Ayrshire and exemplify the mature and innovative way in which learning is delivered in the area.”

The winning design from Cumnock Academy will form the basis of the solution which the college team (including Keppie Design, structural engineer Ramboll, contractor McLaughlin & Harvey and interior designer Space Solutions) will implement, with the winning team remaining part of the process. The next step is to present the design solution to the college’s project board.

The following people made up the judging panel:

  • Hardeep Singh Kohli, TV personality and broadcaster (chair)
  • Professor Christopher Platt, head of Mackintosh School of Architecture
  • Marie Macklin CBE, Ayrshire College Board of Management and CEO of the Klin Group
  • Eileen Mackin, Ayrshire College project team leader
  • Ryan Sylvester, divisional director at Keppie Design and project architect for the new Ayrshire College.

Cumnock Academy demonstrated thinking in a wide variety of areas including furniture, lighting, acoustics and fabrics. The team presented a comprehensive solution that showed a significant amount of background research which included testing the durability of materials, the flow of traffic in the college and accessibility of the space. The team also showed several skills by using video content and the use of modelling software in their presentation.

Professor Christopher Platt, judge and head of Mackintosh School of Architecture, said: “The Interaction project is a fantastic example of schools, higher education and industry working together. Architecture is not taught in schools as a subject so it is increasingly important for firms like Keppie to engage with education to improve how the profession is perceived by those who may go on to become the architects of the future.”

David Ross explained the background to the project and its aspirations: “In general terms, architects engage far less with the communities in which we operate than we’d like to admit, given that listening and communicating with those who experience our work is an essential part of the job. To an extent, this could be as a consequence of a gulf between education and practice which has already been recognised by many educators. By addressing this issue there is an opportunity for architectural practices to become directly involved in changing how the profession is understood and perceived by those who may go on to become the architects of the future.

“What we get from an initiative such as Interaction is a real sense of contribution.  Keppie operates a specific work experience programme that has seen several of those who’ve been through it become full-time employees after their further education courses.  They have been coached in the way we want to work and have therefore made an easy and quick transition into the world of work.  It is my view that more practices need to collaborate with, and support, the wider spectrum of education in order to protect, nurture and ultimately strengthen the profession for the future. That seems like an aspiration worth sharing.”