The Bartlett School of Architecture


Kieran Mahon

Kieran Mahon | PhD Thesis | Experimental Environments: The Architecture of England’s Progressive Schools, 1914–1939

The Headmaster’s Office at Foxhole, Dartington Hall School: Interior with fireplace, bookcases and parquet floor



Experimental Environments: The Architecture of England’s Progressive Schools, 1914–1939

First and second supervisors 


My project looks at the history of interwar progressive education in order to cast light on how architecture intersects with learning. By revisiting interwar progressive environments in England, I hope to highlight how these experiments altered users’ and public attitudes to architecture and education. Drawing on a range of sources and materials relating to these sites, the project’s ambition is to develop a way of writing about the history of educational architecture which contributes to the way we understand teaching and learning in the present.

In order to re-read the histories of two schools – Dartington Hall School, Devon (1926) and Impington Village College, Cambridgeshire (1939) – I will examine a selection of empirical evidence through a critical framework of architectural history and educational theory. This framework will ask how these once experimental environments worked to change relationships between architecture, pedagogy and power. The framing of these relationships and their dissemination through the media (for instance, photography and documentary film) will be further examined to question how representation changed the way audiences understood what the future role of postwar education might be.

Although both of these educational projects were once alternatives to conventional educational practice, their philosophies and practices have long been absorbed and appropriated by state schools. Aspects of their histories have been addressed before but not yet synthesised into a single account which looks to uncover a shared genealogy of educational and architectural ideas. I therefore seek to produce a focused account of the nature of progressive space in the interwar period and one that negotiates a place between conventional architectural and educational histories.


As well as being a part-time doctoral student at The Bartlett, I am History and Theory Coordinator on the Interior and Spatial Design Programme at Chelsea College of Arts. My teaching and research interests lie between architectural histories of nineteenth and twentieth-century London, philosophical anarchism and progressive education. I have experience in developing, planning and facilitating a variety of educational programmes ranging from intercultural, cross-disciplinary undergraduate courses to working with local primary schools and architecture education organisations. Outside education I enjoy playing loud rock music in the ever-emerging rock outfit Type Two Error and running marathons.