Barry Du Bois

Builder, designer and TV Host Barry Du Bois says the results of a school survey he took part in were “hideous”.

Du Bois started looking at classroom design as part of a not-for-profit initiative he launched, Co-Innovate, which aimed to foster collaboration to solve big community problems.

He contributed to CRCLCL research and to the design and to the design and development of the Hivve pilot modular classrooms.

Speaking ahead of his appearance at last month’s Clean Technology conference on the Sunshine Coast Du Bois told The Fifth Estate the results of his initial, informal survey of teachers about their demountable classrooms were “hideous”. So he put together a design brief that aims to design a portable classroom that could be delivered at the same cost as a conventional “box with holes” while offering a much healthier and more sustainable learning place.

Du Bois based the brief not only on the thinking of architects and teachers, but also on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Clean air, a sense of security, belonging, connection to nature and nurture were some of the principles that contributed to his brief along with insights from child psychologists and air purification experts.

“The learning space had to be both an experiment and an excursion [for the students],” he says.

Just as it all started to come together on the drawing board, Du Bois was diagnosed with cancer and everything stopped while he underwent treatment.

Following treatment and in remission, he says he needed to rebalance his life. Co-Innovate wound down, and he was “dragged kicking and screaming” into being a TV presenter in the home renovation genre.

The energy and thinking that had gone into his classroom project was redirected into working with Hivve.

“That allowed me to bring in the things that I’ve learned,” he says.

When asked why he thinks schools are still being stuck with demountable classrooms that have barely changed since the 1960s, Du Bois points out that the demountable industry is worth around $4 billion a year, and it has capable and influential lobbyists.

“The world is controlled by lobbyists,” Du Bois says. “We live in a country that is monopolised by big business and government. Lobbyist dollars have more strength than thought and belief in humanity.”

The product delivered for schools is similar to the demountable product delivered for mining projects and industrial site sheds, and those manufacturers wield considerable influence.

“The world is controlled by lobbyists,” Du Bois says. “We live in a country that is monopolised by big business and government. Lobbyist dollars have more strength than thought and belief in humanity.”

He gives another example in the residential building industry, where a two-storey detached house “with minimal risk” has high insurance requirements, while a 10-storey apartment building with “incredible risk” attached to it has minimal insurance.

That is a result of governments who set the regulations around building insurance being lobbied by big business, he says.

“The fish rots from the head…government and industry need to step up. Governments need to legislate for the people, not for corporations.”

He does not expect we’ll see any quantum leap towards sustainability until government “takes control and takes ownership of climate change and of the development of humans.”

In addition to rethinking the demountable, Du Bois says there is potentially a bigger set of questions to be asked about the places where children are educated.

“The logistics of shipping four million kids every morning off to boxes with holes in them to learn about where they have come from is ridiculous,” he says.

“There are huge buildings in the city where the mums and dads work that have empty space. These could be education spaces,” he suggests.

Educating children in close proximity to where their carers and parents work would incorporate higher orders of Maslow’s hierarchy, by adding greater opportunities for nurture to occur through the day between adults and kids.

“It really needs a rethink.”

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  1. surrounded by selfish greedy money-grubbing developers with mates in the Liberal governments constantly trying to depose her or destroy her non-corrupt good work, I see Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney as a shining light for good – actually doing things like parks, childcare centres, libraries – that make life better for everyday, even poor, folks in Sydney.

    The contrast is stark – Sydney Town Hall Square has been carefully planned for decades – so the haters in the Lobotomy neo-Liberals decide to lob up an oversized highrise on Cockle Bay Darling Harbour – just so it will overshadow Clover’s Town Hall Square – oh and of course maximise the profit dollars into their mates private pockets – spiteful little bastards.