UNIT Fabrications builds social-distancing furniture for London primary school

UNIT Fabrications
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UK furniture brand UNIT Fabrications has created a series of mobile screens for a primary school in London to help pupils returning from coronavirus lockdown to social distance.

UNIT Fabrications created the screens after being approached by the Charles Dickens Primary School's head teacher to help create a masterplan to implement social distancing measures at the school.

"With a two-week lead time before the phased return of reception, year 1 and year 6 classes, the plan needed to divide and utilise the existing space, whilst creating a friendly, visually clear map for pupils to safely navigate the space," explained UNIT Fabrications director Toby Hadden.

One of the main physical interventions made by the furniture brand was a series of colourful screens that will be used to divide up the internal spaces.

Each of the screens is made from a plywood panel, which is colour laminated on both sides, framed by two exposed plywood fins that are mounted on machine castors.

"The coloured laminate is playful and easy to clean whilst the ply details give the panels warmth," Hadden told Dezeen.

"From a scaling perspective, the screens had to be designed at a height to enable teachers to maintain a visual of their class whilst creating enough of a barrier for the pupils not to interact outside of their bubbles."

When designing the screens, UNIT Fabrications chose to combine the timber with bright colours so that the children didn't immediately associate the furniture with the current pandemic.

"We have been surrounded by so much plastic since the outbreak of the pandemic" explained Hadden. "Overnight, plastic screens have been put up in our shops, restaurants and public spaces."

"We were determined to design something that didn't pull from the material language of a pandemic. We pushed to use a high quality birch plywood to create solutions that had a warmth and material permanence," he continued.

"The laminates were selected in a palette of bright colours that would appeal to the children, and the outdoor screens embraced more of a natural aesthetic with a consideration of extending the learning environment."

Along with the indoor screens, UNIT Fabrications has also installed colourful, vinyl wayfinding markings on the floors and walls, a series of glass partitions in public areas and has made an outdoor version of the screen.

Pupils that have returned this week have been divided into groups of 15, with each group being assigned a different colour. Additional colours will be used when further year groups return to the school.

"All of the interventions were driven by a laminate shell colour system, which would allow extension of the furniture elements as and when the distancing measures required it," said Hadden.

"We didn't want to design a colour system that only addressed the year groups returning in the short term, so as a part of our master plan we have a colour scheme for all years at the school that align with the laminate colour system."

After the pandemic the designers envision the screens continuing to be used by the school to break up larger rooms.

"We felt it was important to give the interventions some longevity so that the furniture had a legacy after the distancing measures were no longer required," said Hadden.

"The screens can be used as break-out spaces, reading corners, they can be used an exhibition panels and positioned to create a gallery space, to give all but a few examples."

UNIT Fabrications was established by Hadden and Adam Walkden earlier this year, and the interventions at Charles Dickens Primary School are the studio's first project.

UNIT Fabrications builds social-distancing furniture for London primary school