Made in Oakfield


Designers: Oakfield School students, MATT + FIONA and MSA Ltd
Project initiator: Ian Read, The Culture Company
Project Manager: Jacob Valvis, Matt+Fiona
Engineer: Tim Lucas, Price & Myers
School lead: Ste Sunners, Oakfield School
Volunteers: Glenn Wooldridge, Rosie Tillotson, Joe Hazelwood, Sarah Oxley, Bradley Moore, Dovile Čiapaitė, Kate Slattery, Harry Dunn, Alex Taylor
Photography: French + Tye and Patrick Mateer

Oakfield students show their creativity as they build outdoor learning space and shelter.

Children from Hull with complex social, emotional and mental health needs have created an outdoor learning space with the help of architects as part of Hull UK City of Culture 2017’s learning programme.

Made in Oakfield has seen pupils from Oakfield Residential School working with architectural educationalists Matt+Fiona to design a shelter for their allotment on Portobello Street, east Hull.

Working with Matthew Springett and Fiona MacDonald, the young people, aged between 11 and 16, came up with the design and then built it over seven intensive days. For some from the school, which caters for students struggling in mainstream education, it is the first time they have a dedicated space of their own.

The project was initiated as part of the forward-thinking No Limits initiative, the learning strand of the Hull 2017 celebrations. The initiative ensures that every school child in Hull is involved, bringing opportunities directly to them. Made in Oakfield is the result of courageous and sensitive planning between Hull 2017, Hull City Council and Oakfield School – creating a hands-on, intergenerational learning experience that is tailored to the needs of the students. The project demonstrates that through tailored collaboration with trained designers, young people can productively contribute to the design process and take control of their built environment.

Martin Green, Director of Hull 2017, added: “The Made in Oakfield project is another great example of how young people across the city are making the most of Hull’s City of Culture year. It sees local students working together, solving problems and being creative. The No Limits programme continues to bring together schools, cultural partners and the city’s young people to create once-in-a-generation experiences as part of Hull 2017.”

The brief and design for the allotment den were sown in an open workshop. The students explored ideas of scale, construction methodology and materials though a series of models made by our young designers and clients. They then presented these in an open review where Matt+Fiona developed the potential of each design proposal.

There was a clear call for a space for both work and recreation that would include a workshop, a classroom and a den. The young people were also very keen that the space should be able to transform from an enclosed ‘snug’ to an open space that extended to engage with their allotment. Walls that can open up were specifically demonstrated in models, as were high level retreats and open deck areas.

Matt+Fiona then developed the design to represent and incorporate the young Oakfield designers’ ideas. Thought was given to the scale and deliverability within the short, one week construction window, along with considerations of materiality. The final design was wholeheartedly supported by the Oakfield designers.

Fiona MacDonald said: “We believe enabling young people to design and then build their own spaces empowers them to take ownership of their built environment. It has been a privilege to work with such an inspired and dedicated group of individuals at the school. The project accelerated from the seed of an idea to completion within two months, enabling them to realise the transformation of this unique and special place. We know it will continue to be well used and that the experience will be a springboard for their future endeavours.”

The structure is a lightweight timber frame supported on a suspended deck that sits on ground-penetrating metal foundations. The southern wall is designed with large, pivoting, counter-weighted doors that lock down securely at night and in winter and open up to the allotment to provide an extended canopy with a deck below. The envelope is made of ply with a unique rubber painted skin. This not only creates a vibrant outer face but also ensures a waterproof shell with simple wick application – a key consideration with only a week to build.

There is space for a high level lookout and workbench, both of which the school will continue to develop over time. MATT+FIONA are looking forward to the ongoing appropriation of the space as the Oakfield team take ownership. There are already plans afoot for solar panels and rainwater harvesting.

Rachel Davies, Headteacher at Oakfield Residential School, said: “This exciting project has been a very positive experience for the students of the school. It has been an excellent opportunity for staff and students to work together to create something extraordinary. The school community is proud to be part of this project and will continue to embrace all of the exciting opportunities that Hull’s City of Culture has to offer.”