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The Art Barn - The Creative Heart of a STEAM School
James Stockdale
14th April 2020

Georgette Yakman founded the STEAM movement in 2007. She defined STEAM as “Science and Technology, interpreted through Engineering and the Arts, all based in elements of Mathematics.”

Adding an ‘A’ to STEM, it is important to note that the ‘A’ should not refer simply to Art as a subject but to ‘The Arts’, incorporating language, arts and humanities. With this definition, STEAM is more than the sum of its five core ‘subjects’, but is, of course, an integrated educational approach. It’s widely accepted that innovation is sparked through creativity, thus putting ‘The Arts’ firmly at the creative centre of STEAM and the 21st Century Learning.

Dulwich College International (DCI) is leading the agenda with its new STEAM model. Their SE21 programme stands for STEAM and Entrepreneurship & Environmental Sustainability for the 21st Century (SE21 is also the postcode of their London School) where all the principals of STEAM are bolstered by the further emphasis on pioneering innovation and responsible business through entrepreneurialism. In developing the design for Dehong Shanghai School (a sister school to the Dulwich College International (DCI) network of schools), we identified a need to create an area within the school that could not only educate and develop the artists and designers of the future but make a firm statement on the importance of Art in STEAM and modern education.

Taking the view that creativity should not be limited by space in which the artist works, it was important to step away from the more traditional notion of the inward-looking and cellular classroom. Instead, we developed a typology of workshops and studios clustered around a multipurpose, double-height volume we dubbed ‘The Art Barn’; a space that could spark student’s imagination and freedom of expression whilst also strengthening innovation.

The addition of this Art Barn into the proposed design offered the opportunity to introduce an innovative heart to the Performing Arts department of the School; a multipurpose and freely adaptable meeting place that stimulates creativity, dialogue and student collaboration. Should students wish to express their ideas on large format canvas, 8m high sculptures or installations, the addition of the double-height space offers students the opportunity to do so.

Students have the freedom to use and adapt the Art Barn how they see fit, allowing them to put their own needs and educational agendas at the forefront of its utilisation and ultimately giving them the control how their work is showcased through individual and group curation.

The Art Barn can also be used as a forum to present interactive project demonstrations that incorporate all the other STEAM subjects as well as the Performing Arts through its close adjacency to the Black Box (a smaller, flexible performance space) located opposite.

A central staircase and bridge link connects the lower level of the Art Barn to the workshops located on the mezzanine above. The Barn can be easily adapted to become an exhibition space for and of year shows and the central elevated walkway also provides a unique opportunity to view and display student work for an elevated, three-dimensional perspective. This interaction helps to change the dynamic of how students approach creativity, experimentation and expression in their project work; all of which are key factors of 21st-century learning and STEAM integrated Future Schools.

Dehong Shanghai School has been designed by Broadway Malyan’s team in Shanghai and is the latest international school being delivered by the practice in China for some of the best known names from the UK independent school sector.