The Design Council has endorsed a Sunesis standardised school design that was one of the first to be launched in the UK.

The Government body, which promotes design and architecture for the public good, has said the Sunesis Keynes model opens up the debate into the benefits and possibilities of delivering standardised designs, which is necessary given the efficiency drive to cut the cost of school building schemes.

Sunesis is a joint initiative between public sector construction procurement company Scape and Willmott Dixon and there are plans to submit four more models to undergo the same Design Council review process.

To date, there has been much debate about the pros and cons of standardised designs. Supporters believe standardisation offers certainty in costs and delivery timescales, while others argue that it may not meet the needs of an end user, as the lack of a bespoke, individual design is less likely to meet a particular context or brief.

That perception is evolving, with the Design Council stating Keynes could provide a valuable learning environment, offering proactive spaces for learning and play.

Alan Thompson, Senior Advisor at the Design Council, explained: “We have made a number of general comments about the long term challenges for the standardised process and for the design of both buildings and the landscape. We find the Sunesis Keynes project to be a valuable response to the challenges of delivering new primary schools.

“And providing the client and design team continue to develop their models further, we believe this could be a successful way to build new schools, specifically where both the site and client brief are at the less demanding end of the spectrum.”

This news comes just weeks after Warwickshire County Council purchased the £2.2m Keynes model and construction of the first standardised Sunesis school in the UK got underway at Oakfield Primary in Rugby.

Scape’s CEO Mark Robinson explained: “According to the National Audit Office and Construction Excellence, over 50 per cent of public buildings are delivered late and cost more than first thought. Sunesis is different, in that it offers complete certainty in cost, time and quality up front.

“Time and cost certainty are critical factors for local authorities to consider, particularly as demand in many parts of the UK is outstripping supply. A surge in birth rates over recent years means that pupil numbers in many existing school buildings is nearing capacity.

“There is a real need to meet the challenge set out by Government to deliver education facilities in a different way, and we believe the Sunesis approach offers that solution. This third party endorsement from the Design Council will pave the way for a shift in perception, and we delighted to have received such positive feedback.”

John Frankiewicz, CEO of Willmott Dixon Capital Works said, “We see standardisation as fundamental to meeting the ‘more for less’ agenda that our clients have set us and are delighted to have this Design Council CABE endorsement. We are only just getting started, with several models available; we aim to save local authorities million of pounds for their new school accommodation.”

On average, Sunesis is set to reduce the cost of a new school facility by up to 30 per cent, and the build programme by around 20 weeks. It is available to any public sector client via Scape’s National Contractor Framework, to which Willmott Dixon was re-appointed in 2010 following a competitive tender process as the sole delivery contractor.

Aside from Oakfield, there are several other Sunesis schemes in the pipeline. Councils and schools are able to choose from three other standardised primary school designs (Newton, Paxton and Dewey). One model (Mondrian) is available to secondary schools. Full details of standard prices, optional extras and green design features aimed at reducing running costs, can be viewed on

Atkins, a leading engineering consultancy, is behind the Keynes model.