“As an embodiment of what might be, children help us to mediate between the ideal and the real: they propel our thoughts forward. Their protean nature encourages us to think in terms of design that is flexible, inclusive, and imaginative.”
‘Century of the Child, Growing by Design 1900 – 2000’, MOMA 2012
On Saturday I held a small workshop at the Farm with some of the pupils at St. John’s and their parents, to explore possible options for the second phase – when the pavilion will be enclosed as an interior classroom. Having designed the overall structure, there was a clear framework for them to respond to, and given they’ve all experienced music classes at the the school, they were pretty familiar with the brief for the space! Each child had their own 1:25 scale model and were free to ‘complete’ it in any way that they wanted. We had a short discussion at the start of the workshop about what kind of things they might consider, with input from the three parents, who between them had expertise in acoustics, textiles and music. Whilst some of them created a performative space within the classroom, positioning an audience on one side of the structure and a stage on the other, others pursued the idea of the smaller volume under the low pitched room as a one-to-one teaching room, and the larger volume as a group classroom; one of the children created a flexible seating arrangement, allowing for performances in the round, and another was more interested in furniture that could double up as storage; one created folding doors which could open up to the outside space, another made a large window opening…
Although some of these ideas came via prompts from myself or the parents, I was really surprised by the speed and confidence with which they came up with their own directions and approaches. All of them – aged from 6 to 11 – were incredibly focused over the few hours we spent in the workshop and really engaged with the task. Although the workshop was a great way to get some insights into how they experience their lessons and envisage the new space, it was also about opening the architectural process up to the children – and to explore ways of using design as an educational tool. In 2013 the UK government launched its first independent architecture review, named after its lead researcher, Sir Terry Farrell . The first recommendation of the Farrell Review, which falls under the theme of Education, Outreach & Skills’, explains why PLACE (Planning, Landscape, Architecture, Conservation, Engineering) should be taught in schools: “The way in which we shape our physical environment must be taught as early as possible in schools if we are to get across how critical the role of the built environment is to our health and wellbeing – socially, economically, environmentally and culturally. It includes everything from aesthetics and sustainability to ‘your home, your street, your neighbourhood, your town’ where the smallest part, (your home and your street) collectively make an enormous contribution to the future of our planet. Architecture, the built environment and an understanding of ‘place’ should be taught through many different subjects including art and design, geography, history and STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) rather than as a subject in its own right. The aim is for young people to develop the widest creativity and problem-solving skills, which are essential for the creative industries, and to develop an understanding of what the built environment professionals do”.
As a designer, rather than a teacher, I feel my own abilities to work directly with children in this way are a little limited… but it was a super interesting first step, and hopefully fun for the kids! Thanks to all the families who took park, and also to Stewart for joining us to help document the process!