Architecture and education: a national context

Running in parallel to these ground-breaking developments was the establishment of a national network of architecture centres, in London (The Architecture Foundation, RIBA Gallery and The Building Exploratory, Hackney), and in Kent (Chatham), Glasgow, Bristol, Plymouth, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds, Hull the East Midlands and Cambridge.33 Whilst each of these centres is unique and specific to its host city, local region and community, they all have one thing in common. As The Architecture Foundation puts it: architecture centres exist to ‘promote the importance of high quality contemporary architecture and urban design to as wide an audience as possible… to encourage public participation and debate on the design, planning and sustainability of our cities. ’ and to actively bridge the gap ‘between decision-makers, design professionals and the public.’34

To complement the growing network of architecture centres, and to add to this new public interface with design in the built environment, two annual events were established to celebrate both existing and new British architecture. National Architecture Week was established in 1997 to run each year in June; and London Open House over a September weekend was first launched in 1992. Both provide a wide range of opportunities for young people to interact with architects and their work.

Architecture Week’s ‘Open Practice’ initiative in particular is ‘a great chance to ask architects face to face about their buildings and see how they work’.35 As if calling out to a younger audience, Tom Dyckhoff declares: ‘There’s no doubt about it, architecture’s suddenly become hot. The big debate these days isn’t about classical v modern but whether it’s the new sex or new rock’n’roll’.36 At last, a group of secondary students visiting an architect’s practice would be an annual event and not a once-in-a-lifetime fluke.

Perhaps, after ten years of gradual and incremental education work by the likes of the Building Experiences Trust, the Architecture Workshops Association, Kent Architecture Centre, Manchester’s CUBE (Centre for Understanding the Built Environment) and The Building Exploratory in Hackney, East London, for example, a new generation of young people had grown up with the idea that architecture was ‘cool’. This same generation had – perhaps – also developed their own understanding of architecture and the impact of design on their lives. From a few solitary architects venturing into their local schools to help with a one-off curriculum project, we now have young people turning up on the doorsteps of architecture practices all over the country.

These first building blocks have laid the foundation for a new kind of dialogue between schoolchildren and architects. Alive with a new awareness of design in the built environment, empowered with a shared architectural language and in an era in which public participation is becoming common place, young people and the architect-educators of the architecture workshop movement have co-created a context for meaningful collaboration on the design of new school buildings.