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Learning on the River

Stemming from a need to shake up the way education is currently provided to Generation Z, ‘Contextualised Learning on the Thames’ looks to provide a new educational experience that breaks out of the classroom and engages with real, lived experiences. Free from a prescribed syllabus, the project questions the traditional approach to education and uses London and the Thames as its extended classroom, promoting learning through creative exploration, collaboration and conversation.

Conceived as a series of floating workshops, the buildings move up and down the Thames using the whole river to explore a given subject within the context of the city’s fabric and wider landscape of the river. This might take the form of a cookery workshop that starts by collecting oysters in the Thames estuary, sails up to Banham Marshes where the pupils pick wild herbs, visits Billingsgate and then culminates in the preparation of a dinner of locally sourced ingredients for parents.

At classroom level the buildings use an architecture that is interactive and inquisitive, and the physical building fabric becomes another vehicle for learning. Taking precedent from the industrial architecture that lines the Thames’ east end, the classrooms are designed as factories to encourage experiments and allow the children to rethink a given subject through entirely active means. The inner workings of the buildings are exposed to promote an understanding of the building performance—particularly the use, treatment and management of water. Children are encouraged to consider the effect of the city on the Thames.

Through the careful management of relationships with both public and private institutions the project will remain entirely free, ensuring that this new educational experience is available for all. Each class will invite a spectrum of Generation Z members, and creative collaboration between children from different backgrounds will be essential. Education is presented as a tool to empower the legacy of Generation Z, creating future citizens who respect the importance of London’s vast cultural spectrum and appreciate the need to build communities that benefit from a more economically fair urbanism.

The network of floating structures not only provides new spaces for the city’s younger generation but also tries to reignite the wider civic connection to the river. The Thames is London’s largest open space and can now be used to house vast areas of new public space and community owned institutions. These will focus on community built structures that embody the needs and culture of a given district. This in turn allows the river to become a vast buffer zone that transcends formal geographic connections and starts to bridge the widening social and economic disparity in today’s city.

In two future scenarios, the network comes together for specific events to create new pieces of city. When the Woolwich Passenger Ferry is decommissioned in 2020 workshops and public infrastructure are re-constructed on the water. New aquatic sports facilities and public gardens are provided, and a temporary bridge is created to reconnect Woolwich with the King George Docks.

All images courtesy of Oliver Partington:

The Bartlett School of Architecture, Unit 22.