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Architecture lecturer helps 'space age' plastic classroom win listed status

Richard Brook campaigned to have The Bubble better recognised

The plastic Bubble classroom at Kennington Primary School in Preston
The plastic Bubble classroom at Kennington Primary School in Preston

A unique plastic classroom in Preston popularly known as ‘The Bubble’ has been given listed status thanks to help from a lecturer with a passion for modern architecture.

Richard Brook's campaign for better recognition of the futuristic pod at Kennington Primary School helped the unusual extension to receive Grade II listed status from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.

Geometric design

The innovative classroom was constructed between 1973 and 1974 as a prototype for a proposed prefabricated mass-produced plastic school building system that never got off the ground.

Linked to the school’s Victorian main building by a corridor, the classroom is made out of 35 reinforced white triangular polyester panels assembled to create an angular modified icosahedron, or a 20-sided shape.

Designed by architects Ben Stevenson and Mike Bracewell of Lancashire County Council, it was the first fully structural plastic building in Britain.

The classroom won Lancashire County Council’s Architects’ Department the 1977 Building Innovation Award from Building Magazine and was feted by the national media, with The Guardian describing the educational pod as “space age”.

Unaltered in its geometric appearance, and providing inside a fluid use of space and freedom of movement by pupils, it is still in use today.

Richard Brook, Principal Lecturer in Architecture

Fascinating concept

Mr Brook, a Principal Lecturer in Architecture at Manchester School of Architecture jointly run by Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Manchester, said: “The classroom was part of a survey of the work of Roger Booth, Lancashire County Council’s architect between 1962 and 1983.

“I had been looking at his work for a while when invited to write a piece for the Journal of the Twentieth Century Society which is soon to be published.

“Scanning every page of the Lancashire County Council architect department reports, I came across the black and white images of the classroom and was fascinated by it and couldn't understand why it wasn't known to aficionados in the region, given that I'm well connected with heritage groups.

“I thought it must be because it had been demolished but my research revealed it was still standing and I could barely contain my excitement.

“Within a week I was photographing it and I met a man who lived across the road who said his two children had been taught in there in reception class and absolutely loved it. The children call it The Bubble.”

A concept for the plastic school drawn using computer aided design

The classroom, which lies in Kennington Road in the Preston suburb of Fulwood, was included a 2012 thematic survey of post-war schools conducted by Historic England, which found Mr Brook’s extra information and listed status application useful contributions to its assessment.

The listing of the plastic classroom was announced today and Mr Brook said Roger Booth’s widow and son are pleased at the news.

Mr Brook said: “It's generally very difficult to get post-war buildings listed and so I’m delighted at contributing to securing the Grade II listing of this architecturally experimental and important classroom.”

'Impressive and innovative'

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: "We are pleased to have these impressive and diverse designs join the List, as they express imaginatively the new approaches to education in the post-war period. Careful and innovative use of materials distinguish the buildings and reflect the investment at the time."

Mr Brook recently released a guidebook to the history of modern architecture in Greater Manchester called Manchester MODERN that documents with photographs 111 buildings and structures around the region.

The limited edition coffee table book, a labour of love since 1999, was able to be published by the Modernist Society following a successful crowdfunding campaign including a donation from its patron, the musician Johnny Marr.


17 October 2017