Bond Bryan have been delivering educational environments for over three decades. Over this time, we’ve fostered a culture of collaborative design with our clients, and also ensured that all of our innovations are shared from project team to project team throughout our wide-reaching practice.
As such, our team members work with – and add to – the rich tapestry of knowledge gathered by all of their colleagues since 1987. Our never-ending cycle of knowledge sharing, architectural revolution, and peer-to-peer mentorship has ensured that we have remained strong leaders within the education sector – delivering a vast portfolio to a fantastic client base.
Within each sector we work in, we have those whom we consider to be our ‘sector experts’, and this piece is designed to give a glimpse into the career, inspiration and design philosophy of one of our foremost School Sector leaders – Afshan McKay.
Afshan McKay sits within our Sheffield studio and is recognised as our sector leader for designing vibrant, energising and motivational school environments.
An Associate Director and a long-term Bond Bryan veteran, Afshan has been a key member in many of our educational teams – leading design teams, mentoring staff, and delivering many award-winning schools across the UK.
Over her 13-year career with Bond Bryan, Afshan has cemented herself within our firm as a natural leader and is highly regarded – as a trusted pair of hands – by the Department for Education and local authorities across the midlands and the north of England.
We caught up with Afshan to ask her a few questions about her passion for design, her inspiration and what she thinks is the key to creating a truly inspirational school environment:
That’s an interesting question! It was about year 8 of school when we had to write an essay about our interests and what career we’d like to pursue. Coming from an Asian background, it can be a very competitive environment to succeed – people become doctors, surgeons, engineers, scientists – but all I wanted to be was an artist, which didn’t exactly fit into the idea of success which my parents had. However, by marrying up my loves of science, maths and art, I chose to pursue architecture as a career. For me, problem-solving and creativity have always been my strengths and things which I enjoy – and architecture really gives me that freedom to solve problems in a creative way.
I also wanted to have a job where no two days would be the same – and that’s exactly what architecture gives me: one day I’m designing, the next I’m meeting my clients, then I’m going through technical detailing with my design team. I always say, “find what makes you happy in this world and do that” – and, for me, that’s exactly the opportunity which architecture has given me.
I think the biggest thing to remember, as an architect, is that buildings are not sculptures. In every design you produce, you have to put the human element first – a building can be the most stunning piece of architecture on the outside, but if it doesn’t work on the inside, then the building has failed.
In the end, it’s what’s inside that counts: the building functions to serve those within it – and, if you fail the interior of a building, you fail the user.
It wasn’t even a flashy building! It was the Dyke House School in Hartlepool. It was a remodelling project of an old Victorian school building, which in itself was a very typical design of the era but, over time, there had been countless piecemeal additions made to the original building – making it a nightmarish mish mash and the interior spaces had paid the price. So, we stripped back all of these additions, completely gutted the building’s internals and repurposed the school to fit its modern-day use: we allowed natural light to illuminate the building, we stripped away any small interior spaces and replaced them with large, open spaces. We restored it to its former glory – it was an internal transformation – and most importantly, the kids loved it!
As a BSF project, we had a lot riding on it and it was a particularly challenging refurbishment – besides the added pressure. However, the end product itself was astounding and all involved in the project – from the design team, to the clients, to the staff and students – felt a real sense of pride in what we had achieved; it’s not about glory, it’s about how you make the spaces work.
The end-user’s needs. Every school – no matter how big or small – must serve the needs of the staff and the students first and foremost. Once those needs have been addressed and incorporated into the design, you can start to review how the context and setting of the school should feed into the design.
Architecture shouldn’t be a display of ego – it’s not about designing the building I want to design, but about designing the building that the end-user needs. We, as architects, are subservient to the needs of our buildings’ users, and this is something we should never lose sight of.
Benton Park School is an authority-maintained public-sector school tracing its history back to the early 1800s. After a review by Leeds City Council Children’s Services, it was identified that the school would have to grow to accommodate an extra 300 students by September 2021.
Bond Bryan first began work on this project in 2016 – producing a feasibility study that led to the Council’s acquiring adequate funding to finally launch this project, in earnest, in 2019. Following a very tight design competition period, we were delighted to win this project in December 2019 and finally able to take it forward to completion.
Considerable work has since been undertaken by Bond Bryan, in conjunction with the School, the LEP and Leeds City Council, to develop the vision for the school – including a comprehensive review of the existing school estate. At the centre of this vision is the construction of the new school building and associated facilities – to replace some of the school’s existing accommodation and to provide an integrated, inclusive and sustainable environment in a development that is a fantastic place in which to learn.
Our scheme includes a high-quality, new school building that benefits from its parkland setting with improved open spaces, play and sports facilities and provides a distinctive and striking design whilst sitting comfortably within the immediate, enhanced surrounding landscape.
Work started on site in July and we are delighted to see this project rising from the ground, with a projected finish date for the building of September 2021 and the completion of external works by May 2022. Bond Bryan Associate Director and Project Lead, Afshan McKay, comments:
“We are delighted to see this project finally come to pass. It was a long time coming for both the School and the local community!”
We hope to see the works continue their smooth progress in these trying times – giving us all something exciting to look forward to!