The former school of Scots Outlander star Sam Heughan is starting the academic year with two new large classrooms and a pair of studios for creative arts.
Edinburgh Steiner School broke ground at the beginning of the year with the £0.5million project, restoring the dilapidated former stable block and hayloft built in the 1870s.
This time last year, the rapidly deteriorating building was home to rails, shelves and suitcases full of theatrical costumes from past productions spanning eight decades, surrounded by cobwebs, cracked walls, and the pungent smell of mould.
Today it is the newest example of child-friendly architecture within a Waldorf Steiner campus. As a C-listed, Victorian-era stone construction, Historic Scotland’s Statement of Special Interest notes: ‘The survival of the stable block contributes to a large extent to the listed building status.’
Heughan, best known for his acclaimed role as Jamie Fraser in Outlander, graduated from Edinburgh Steiner School in 1997, before enrolling in acting school.
Speaking to Scottish Field, Sam said: ‘I went to a great school when I moved to Edinburgh, one that was very creative and treated each pupil as an individual. I think I learnt self discipline… After a few attempts!’ (Click HERE to read the full interview)
Celebrating its centennial year, Waldorf education is still the fastest growing independent education movement around the globe, with 1,100 schools and almost 2,000 Kindergartens worldwide, on every habitable continent, with a philosophy highly respecting architecture.
It emphasises children are profoundly affected by their built environment throughout their educational careers.
Curriculum spaces follow a remarkable and consistent ethos, drawing inspiration from founder Rudolf Steiner’s teachings and his Goetheanum in Switzerland, which is considered a masterpiece of twentieth century expressionist architecture.
Canted windows and walls circumvent the precision of right-angles, producing an interplay of recesses and projections to introduce a dynamic and living quality, encouraging a child’s imagination. An analysis of sunlight on the site maximized natural light, fundamental to a young person’s wellbeing. Chalkboards over ipads are the focal point of the pupil’s gaze.
The project itself has been used as an educational tool. The design was to be a physical realisation of the principals of Steiner education, with improved environmental credentials, respecting its history.
Formerly, the ground floor accommodated the coach, three horses, a tack room and a steep stair to the hay loft upstairs. Whilst the external stone walls remain, inside is entirely redefined: no corridors, an extended stair on the back wall creates large open rooms for flexible use, impressive bio-fold glass entrances leading to the exterior teaching spaces replace the barn doors.
Children often leave their mark on schools, from scribbles on desks to testing the resilience of furniture. This project actively invited their contributions from materials chosen for their reaction to human contact to pupils participating in the design and build: adding a distinctive façade through boldly integrating Steiner’s Curriculum of Colours, whittling coat hooks by hand from native wood, to making tactile elm handles for the kitchens in each of the four rooms.
Funded in the main by legacies left to the school; project managed by a teacher; and working with contractors Hutton & Read who were sympathetic both to working around a timetable that can often take place outside as well as welcoming children onto the building site, it is a living example of community construction, completed on schedule, on budget.
School term begins again on 29 August, with the two 25-pupil capacity rooms becoming the classrooms for senior pupils; whilst next door the studios will hold basket-weaving, clay sculpting, glass work and book-binding, which form just some of the subjects taught as part of the school’s unique Main Lesson programme. The building will also provide rehearsal spaces for the new drama and musical theatre workshops being added to the after-school programme, where pupils can opt to work towards a Lamda exam.
It is Phase One of an £8million masterplan drawn up by Benjamin Tindall Architects who, 30 years ago, collaborated on the school’s unhurried purpose-built Kindergarten. Phase two of the Growing Spaces campus development project looks to convert the conjoining west coach house into the twelfth full-sized classroom and extend the facilities serving the School’s theatre and hall.
Heughan performed regularly on the school’s stage in both plays and musical performances. It was here where he played his first major acting role in the stage adaptation of novel Oliver Twist.
Following the School’s fourth production of the musical classic this year, directed by alumnae Fiona Oliver-Larkin – one of Manipulate Festival’s Rising Voices, involving pupils from the junior and senior years, music teacher Iain Maclean says: ‘I remember Sam on the trumpet. He also made for a very strong Bill Sykes in our first large-scale production of Oliver!’
The small independent school, with a roll of up to 360 pupils in its Kindergarten and School, became an educational flagship with the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence, offering the internationally recognized Steiner Waldorf curriculum.
Pupils start school at the delayed age of six, don’t wear a school uniform or have a head teacher. A unique aspect of the education’s ethos is the integration of creative arts into all academic disciplines throughout the education.
From Kindergarten to Class 12 (equivalent to S6), all pupils work on and perform pieces that range from fairy tale stories and myths to Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare.
Heughan, now also a producer for Season Five of Outlander (currently being filmed in Scotland), has since attributed much of his success to youth theatre, and is Patron of Youth Theatre Arts Scotland.
The public have an opportunity to see this candidate for the A J Architecture Awards in the Schools category for themselves , as the small holistic school is taking part in the anniversary special Doors Open Day on 28 September, marking the 30th year of this architectural initiative by Cockburn Association.
Fundraising efforts are now underway to raise a further £500,000 to support Phase Two, due to break ground in the same month its esteemed alumnus marks 40 years.