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How can a building develop students’ independence?

Hazelwood School

Marker Glasgow, UK
A school designed specifically for dual sensory impaired children from 2-18 years.

What is Hazelwood School?

Vincent Ferguson, Deputy Head Teacher at Hazelwood
“Having the framework of such an excellent building makes all of our jobs so much easier. I still get a lift from walking through the doors each morning, with a recognition that I am extremely privileged to work in this fine structure and with these amazing people and children.”

Vincent Ferguson, Deputy Head Teacher at Hazelwood

Schools built over the last 50 years often resemble office blocks. Built as quickly and as cost effectively as possible, few buildings are aesthetically inspiring nor do they demonstrate that the children who attend are valued. Instead, schools may feel functional and institutional.

Children with severe complex needs will be unable to lead completely independent lives but the more independence they can achieve will lead to greater choice as adults. While they may have additional learning needs, they all still have the same social needs as other children and they, and their parents and carers, have the right to have these needs catered for. 

Hazelwood School is a state school with around 54 pupils all of whom have multiple disabilities. Their needs are particularly complex as each pupil has a combination of at least two of the following - hearing impairment, acute visual impairment, and mobility or cognitive impairment.

Architect Alan Dunlop was awarded the Hazelwood School project in 2007. He was committed to designing a space that would develop the children’s independence while also providing them with a safe and secure place to learn. The design consultation was collaborative and drew on the views and needs of the whole school community which was especially important as the project involved creating a new building, merging 2 existing schools together on one campus.

Architect Alan Dunlop considered that even the “smallest feature of the architecture could also be conceived as a learning aid”. Details such as signage being at a consistent height throughout the building so students can find it quickly demonstrate that the needs of the children were at the centre of this design. Staff have observed the way in which the building has had a positive impact on the students’ learning and the atmosphere within the school.

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Innovation Overview
Target Group
2 054
Tips for implementation
Considering the main design aspects of Hazelwood School all those looking to improve their buildings can consider how they could improve these areas within their own school. To engage in an architectural design or redesign process, considering costs & timescales are also important. To read more about the design process check out their book "Tezuka Architects: The Yellow Book".
Connect with innovator
Alan Dunlop
HundrED Review

Hazelwood offers students a learning environment that meets their specialised needs and encourages them to feel included and independent.


Hazelwood has been highly successful for children and young people with severe and complex needs and in developing their confidence and independence.


Hazelwood School has been shortlisted for several awards for its design including the WAN AWARDS: World Education Building of the Year 2009 for which it was highly commended. Ideas and elements from the design have been used in the design of other settings for young people with additional needs.


See this innovation in action

So often our kids are in buildings that force us to adapt our teaching for the physical space. I'm currently in Bangladesh visiting schools and the physical space itself makes accessibility very difficult. (the sidewalks just outside the school, for example, are not wheelchair accessible. We had to lift the wheelchair up and over the curbs. This might not seem so terrible but it means this girl has no independence. She cannot go more than a few feet without requiring help). To have a school constructed to the exact needs of the student seems like a dream come true!
Brett Bigham
Hazelwood School Glasgow by Alan Dunlop Architect


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