Regional design lead John Morris has spent a career designing schools. We caught up with him to find out how the education sector’s changing and why every day’s still a school day…
Hi John, what made you choose a career in architecture?
At an early age, the experience of being in a space somebody had designed, whether it was a school, a home or a church, really captured my imagination. I was curious about creating places where people could feel safe, happy and inspired for generations, and it’s always been a privilege to do that. Working at Lungfish on projects like schools and ambulance hubs, you do get the feeling that you’re contributing something positive to society. For me, that’s a really nice bonus.
Is that what attracted you to Lungfish in the first place?
I joined the team for a couple of reasons really. First, the chance to work with our MD Simon again. We’d worked together before and it’s great to be back on the same team. Secondly, the type of work. I’ve spent nearly 35 years working in education design, in primary schools, secondary schools, nurseries and children’s centres. Lungfish is doing some really interesting work in the sector and I felt I had lots to bring to the table.
How do you think the education sector’s changing – and what part is Lungfish playing?
Education building programmes tend to respond to population demand and funding constraints. The challenges the sector faces now mirror those we’ve seen since the 1950s. Back then, pre-designed CLASP buildings were the industry’s response. Today, pre-designed modular buildings and offsite construction are being used to meet those same challenges.
They’re a powerful way to provide school places quickly and cost effectively, and we’re rising to that challenge. But at the heart of every project are the client’s needs, and sometimes modular construction isn’t the best solution. That’s why there’s always a place for more traditional construction, like what we’ve done at Cotton End Forest School.
I hear you’re working on interesting design solutions for SEN schools…
That’s right – I’ve got a lot of SEN experience so I have really enjoyed being involved in our current SEN projects.
It’s actually been a great opportunity to revisit one of my favourite projects too. About five years ago, at our previous practice, Simon and I worked on an SEN school. We went back to see what we could learn and take forward to implement into our design solutions.
It was a really, really positive visit. The head is delighted with the school and it continually gets an Ofsted outstanding rating. We designed spaces the school could expand into over time, and they’re now starting to do that. It was also great to hear how the kids are enjoying it. One of the features we insisted on was an aquarium, and there’s a brother and sister who come to see the fish on their way to class every single day – it’s become their routine.
Do you often revisit past projects like that?
We like to keep in touch with schools and being able to learn from them is incredibly useful, especially with complex projects.
What else are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working with the team on a blue light project for the ambulance service.. It’s about looking at their estate as a whole and rationalising the design of various stations – both major sites and smaller, satellite ones.
For us, the starting point is how the ambulance stations are used by their teams. We’ll be looking at what happens when the ambulances come back from a shift. How they’re cleaned, restocked, refuelled – what it takes to get them ready to go back out again. Our understanding of those processes will be the starting point for our new designs.
When you’re not busy at Lungfish, what makes you tick?
I’ve got two teenage daughters so I tend to run them around quite a lot! One of them is a very keen rower and a couple of years ago she got me into it too. The Lungfish team are a sporty lot – there’s always someone running a marathon or something. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth for all that, but I like to keep fit. I’ll just keep on losing my rowing races – I’m happy with that!