Alan Dunlop is one of the UK’s leading architects and a respected educator, currently Visiting Professor at Robert Gordon University, Scott Sutherland School of Architecture. Widely published in the architectural press and international broadsheets, he is an established commentator on Architecture, Urban Design and Social Issues. Creating evocative architecture is the essence of his work, and each building a consequence of deep thinking about the site, programme and context. His belief is that architecture is how we frame our perception of place and that design is the conduit through which we convey ideas about materials, colour, light and space.
One of his most prominent recent projects is Hazelwood School in Glasgow. This is a school for children and young people, aged 2 to 18, who are blind and deaf – “dual sensory impaired”. Architecturally, it is a new type of project. Many of the school’s children are physically handicapped and all have a degree of cognitive impairment. Together they represent the most acutely disabled children on the City of Glasgow’s education role. They will need lifetime support. He was determined to create a school which would support the needs of the children and the aspirations of their parents, a place of safety and ambition that would free the teacher and inspire the child.
Hazelwood School has been a real success. The children and young people respond well to their new environment and appear to be thriving. They are supported by committed teachers in a bespoke school that their parents love and take ownership for. The building has received multiple national and international awards.
The school itself and the Life Skills House (which is an independent facility used for life learning and respite) have a combined area of 2665 square meters and are set within a landscaped green area adjacent to Bellahouston Park .The existing site was surrounded by mature lime trees while a large lime tree and three beach trees are situated in the centre of it. The school building, designed with flowing curves in its floor plan, manages to curve around the existing trees. In this way, it is creating a series of small garden spaces suitable to the small class sizes and at the same time maximising the potential for small external areas for teaching.
Inside the school, the curved floor plan of the building manages to reduce the visual scale of the main circulation areas while diminishing the institutional feel that the classic sole long corridor would create. This also significantly reduces visual confusion by limiting the extents of the space.
The materials are of course really important for the final design: they help make it both suitable in the context and exciting to the user. The architects use a palette of highly textured natural materials,stimulating to touch and smell, both extremely important to the end users, the students. On the outside, timber boarding that will weather naturally, slate tiles recycled from older construction sites and zinc were chosen for variety and contrast. Inside, the main corridor wall is clad in cork, which is warm to touch and has tactile qualities while providing signs or messages along the route, thus making it easier for the children to locate themselves within the school.