Young designers working with professionals

At the same time the DfES launched their own ‘Classroom of the Future’ initiative in July 2000, some Local Education Authorities allowed schools to facilitate a greater collaboration between their pupils and their project architects.42 Pupils at Cottrell & Vermeulen’s prize-winning Westborough Primary School in Essex worked, for example, on a 3-d modelling project looking at alternative structural forms during the design process for their new school. Taking this approach a few stages further, St Jude’s Primary School in Glasgow undertook a ‘Designing for Real’ process to investigate possible improvements to the design of their school buildings.43 The three-year ‘Making Fish’ project involved children of all ages in a process that would enable them to re-examine the strengths and weaknesses of their existing primary school environment. To make this possible, St Jude’s had to ‘provide the pupils with sufficient skills and understanding of their environment, of the needs of their school in the future, and in drawing and modelling, in order to propose designs that could then be translated, by the professionals involved into a possible reality.’44 Without the pressures of a looming building programme, this kind of collaborative ‘Designing for Real’ project benefits young people and their school community through a greater provision of time to conceptualize and explore design ideas.

As an extension of the hands-on approach taken at St Jude’s Primary School, a team of architects working on a ‘Classroom of the Future’ scheme at Ballifield Primary School, Sheffield have tried to devise small-scale projects in which schoolchildren themselves can physically alter and reinterpret both the interior and exterior (playground) environments of their school. With Ballifield pupils working as ‘designers, makers and implementers’, architects from the Research Design Unit at the University of Sheffield School of Architecture devised ways for their young colleagues to redecorate walls and ceilings with personalized ceramic tiles and to construct large playground benches from rammed earth, concrete or cob (refer to Chapter 3).45 To the extent that school-children

A large timber bench with solid base has many functions, spanning various activities. It acts as a plinth for improvized play and forms a basic building block for the children to use in various ways. The complexity of the unit can be designed to suit budget and needs.

design options

Young designers working with professionals

 

stools

Young designers working with professionals

 

Making a solid base

The construction of a solid base or seat can be undertaken by professionals, or by children. Rammed earth and cob construction use natural materials which can be hand crafted. For advice on alternative building materials, contact the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) or the listed ‘Cob construction’ websites.

 

rammed

earth

concrete

cob

Soil & water

Cement, water & aggregate

Soil, straw & water

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І

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Mix

together

Mix

together

Mix

together

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І

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Put in mould

Pour into mould

Com­

pound

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Compact in layers

Stir to get rid of air

Build up in

layers

 

Young designers working with professionals

Figure 7.5

 

Young designers working with professionalsYoung designers working with professionalsYoung designers working with professionals

might actually construct some parts of an architect’s scheme, projects of this kind take young people’s participation to a new level. Hot on the heels of this innovative work at Ballifield Primary School, in 2003 the UK’s Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) launched ‘Creative Spaces’ – a national competition scheme offering 11- to 14- year-olds the chance to experience the excitement of working in construction while developing ideas for improvements to their schools. Winning students get to see their design proposal actually built, with up to £50 000 worth of construction costs being met by the CITB.

Again in Glasgow, and this time via The Sorrell Foundation’s independent ‘joinedupdesignforschools’ scheme, seven 11- to 12-year-olds at Quarry Brae Primary School worked as a ‘client team’ with architect Ross Hunter and graphic designer Janice Kirkpatrick to ‘create a new type of learning space within a classroom setting.’ In response to the cramped conditions of the 1903 Edwardian school building, and as an investigation into ‘the thinking behind the space above us’, the Quarry Brae team’s highly successful project to design a treehouse above an existing classroom evolved as the result of a creative participatory process to find more working area in a school where ‘space is at a premium’.46 As Kirkpatrick says of the process: ‘I thought this was a great idea – asking children to imagine a different kind of life in which they are in control. For me that’s the most important aspect – asking them to behave in a way that’s contrary to the traditional curriculum… They had pretty strong ideas of what they wanted. Some were really great – especially the treehouse idea. We might never have come up with that solution without them.’47

Giving young people control lies at the heart of the new collaboration in schools design. The positive aspects of allowing young people to take control in participatory design and planning processes has been well documented (see Bibliography at end of chapter: Hart, 1992, Trafford, 1997 and Adams & Ingham, 1998). For example, the opportunity for young people to work with professional designers stimulates pupils’ own learning processes whilst challenging them to think critically about the organization of architectural space around them. With collaborations of this kind, the rigid boundaries between ‘school life’ and the world/s beyond the school gates become a little more blurred. As one young Quarry Brae client team member says, relishing his new sense of ownership: ‘I enjoyed it because we had to think of our own ideas. I really enjoyed working with the designers. It was a lot of hard work – just working as a group. People were thinking of different things and it was so hard to get agreement sometimes. It made me feel good because it was all our own ideas. I will be proud to see it happen – my parents are proud. It makes me like the school more.’48

The importance of ownership should not be underestimated. In her comprehensive and indispensible survey of current UK practice in the design of new learning environments, Helen Clark reminds us ‘that “aspiration of space” is intrinsic to the well-being of those inhabiting it.’ As well as enhancing their own mental health and well-being, ‘reducing the likelihood of vandalism, neglect and costly replacements in the future,’ as a result of this process, the unforgettable educational value of a project like Quarry Brae’s treehouse learning space, rests in the fact that the adult designers’ collaboration with children as young as eleven years old produced the most effective design solution.49 With flair, and a sometimes more liberated imagination, young people can – and do – formulate effective design solutions to specific architectural problems. As architect Keith Priest attests to his (2001) experience working with 16- to 17-year-olds on a ‘makeover’ for the English Department at Monk Seaton Community High School, Newcastle: ‘There’s no doubt that school students should be involved in a wide range of decisions about their school – they certainly can contribute.’50 As Blishen (1969, see Bibliography) too has shown us: ‘our children are immensely anxious to be reasonable, to take account of practical difficulties.’

With Blishen’s observation’s in mind, it is worth reflecting here on the pedagogical implications of collaborative projects of this kind.

Working over time, within school settings, architects and designers can take on a catalytic role. Invited to contribute to the life of a school community and its environment, creative professionals bring an ‘ingredient x’ into the usual teacher-pupil exchange. At its most creative, collaborative partnerships between professional designers and architects and young people can also redefine traditional teacher roles to the extent that the more formal, institutional teacher-pupil relationships can be transcended to the benefit of both parties.51 Mirroring the capacity of design projects like that at Quarry Brae to redefine boundaries between school learning and ‘real-life’ learning, collaborations of this quality can reinterpret teacher-learner relationships in ways which open up new possibilities for young people to reflect on their own propensities and preferred modes of learning (Gardner, 1983).

‘Live’ design projects of this kind, where there is a shared responsibility for the outcome, prompt in young people an alternative kind of learning experience in which another range of abilities comes into play. Young people fortunate enough to have participated in these recent design experiments have also benefited from a renewed sense of self-esteem, confidence and empow­erment. Regretably, this kind of educational process and the experience of the children at the schools mentioned above is the exception, not the rule. In spite of all the pioneering work described above, there is still too great a perceptual and professional distance between architects and young people. There is certainly no shortage of opportunity for collaboration between architects and school children. With the enormous quantity of school building projects scheduled for remodelling or new construction across the UK, we have before us an historic moment of great potential in rethinking the ways in which school buildings and learning environments are designed. To capitalize on this, we need to invent, develop and refine new working relationships between architects and young people.

To bridge the gap between contemporary designers and school children, Clark49 proposes that architects ‘become trained in understanding pedagogical and curricular requirements’. Like

Clark, we would also propose that a more participatory design process requires that learning between young people and architects becomes a two-way exchange. Schoolchildren can learn a spatial language from professional designers, but architects too must learn an environmental language from their young collaborators. We would further argue that a good place to develop this capacity is within the architect’s own education and training.