Saturday 5 July 2014

Architecture for Kids

Architecture for kids
Children are possibly the best conceptual thinkers because of their naive understanding of the world and their innocent questioning. So why not teach Architectural Design in schools? It's a novel subject to most children, which they approach without stylistic or structural preconceptions. The results of their fresh-minded application to the subject are often inspired. We have been running a set of workshops on this subject Architecture for Kids at Furzedown Primary School in London SW17. The kids have enjoyed it greatly and I'm not afraid to say that I have probably learnt as much from the kids, as the kids have from the exercises.

The National Curriculum

The work was designed to fit in to the requirements of the Current National Curriculum in England for design and technology programmes of study, (published 11September 2013). It calls for a process of designing and making using a set of skills based around maths, science, engineering, computing and art. Key areas in the document include building confidence and understanding of design, innovation and developing skills in design representation and making.  We aimed to address these requirements, but by the nature of the work we have done I believe we have exceeded many of them. 

The work also addressed Furzedown Primary School's own Programme of Study for childrens' development, which includes activities such as cutting, folding and slotting materials such as card and understanding mechanical structures.  

The School also holds the Artsmark Gold standard with the Arts Council, England.  The work we did will contribute to some of the sections of this award, for the School's continued accreditation.  


The inspiration for this set of workshops came from our experiences at the Royal Academy's Sensing Spaces Exhibition. From the reaction of the kids to the exhibits and workshop there, it was clear from the start that the focus of the study should be on light, space, colour and materials. (The discussion of architectural design as an arrangement of standard parts - walls, floors, ceilings, doors and windows, was avoided).

The workshops began after informal planning sessions to discuss the learning outcomes and objectives.  They were delivered through team-teaching, by the Art Teacher Ms Michaela Truscott, Form Teacher Ms Annabel Synge and architect in residence (that's me), sharing professional expertise, and delivered to a year 5 class of 9 to 10 year olds.  All 30 kids in the class were included and always engaged in the exercises, which were sometimes set out on a 'carousel' of architectural activities.  

Structures Workshop
This workshop began with a brief presentation, looking at different types of structure, how it is used in buildings, in nature and in product design. It also looked at unusual structures and how different structural types can be combined as hybrids to make new, innovative and interesting solutions. 

Looking at types of structure, loads and performance,
Structures in nature, in buildings and other products,
Hybrid and unusual structures.

We used some props and structural toys to help illustrate and inspire, including tensegrity models, folded card structures, a demonstration of frame vs panel and a Hoberman Sphere. 

Examples of tensegrity structures, the Hoberman Sphere and folded sheet structures.
Pros and cons of frame vs panel, and benefits of structural triangles.

Using as many different sets of construction toys as we could find, the children worked in groups to experiment with the ideas we had just discussed in the presentation.  Each group had a nominated photographer to take sequential photos for time-lapse videos on iPads. 

The class experimented with shapes, frames and interlocking planes to create freestanding structures and enclosures.
(Top left, without any prior reference a model of the Walking City started to appear...)

At the end if the session each group gave a short presentation about their work.  They described what they had tried to do, what worked and what didn't, and what they had learnt.  The enthusiasm of the kids illustrated how much they had engaged in the process and (unlike my days back at the Bartlett) no-one was apprehensive to stand up and discuss what they had attempted. 

All the kids were keen to share their thoughts and findings with the class.

Drawing Workshop
Here we looked at ways of representing spacial designs with drawings, how to understand and read architectural drawings, and how to create them. 

Looking at orthogonal 2D drawings (plans, sections and elevations) and how to project them in to 3D.

Introducing different forms of architectural drawing and representation:
The inspirational drawing, explanatory sketch, CGI, concept model, cut-away drawings etc.
Different ways to engage the viewer with the design proposals.

The kids worked at a number of different methods including drawing concept plans by hand and projecting them into 3D with axo-paper

For a first time using axo-paper, there were some very ambitious attempts at curved structures and cut-away drawings.

Although the kids had access to the computer, sketch-up and several iPad drafting apps (which they can use better than me), we started with hand drawing because of the freedom it allows when beginning a creative process.

The hand is the most articulate and intricate piece of machinery ever created and the feedback between hand and brain is vital for developing creative skills.  I believe working with pencils, pastels, chalks, paints and charcoals etc., offer so much more stimulus for developing creative skills than the computer mouse or touch screen.

As before, the kids presented their work and discussed their ideas for spaces and places with the class.

Design Workshop

With a brief introduction looking at space, form, function, light, structure, materials, location and access (making reference to our Sending Spaces experience), we set to work on designs for architectural installations. 

Looking at design considerations:
Is it an object or a space, is it an active or passive space, what material resources are required?
Analysis of site, daylight and sunlight.
Are surfaces transparent, opaque or textured?
High spaces feel different to wide spaces.
Thinking about colour psychology and innovation.

Designs were initially developed on paper with reference to the range of materials and resources we had available to build with.  

Some of the initial designs referred to scale, materials, structure and function etc.
 A very enthusiastic young architect designed an articulated exo-skeleton using card sheet folded in to three-dimensional flexible surfaces. 

Working in the Design Workshop:
Left hand images: Samples of card structures and perspex samples to help engage kids minds.
Top right: Pencil stack shows how they instinctively they started to rethink all objects as structural / architectural components.
Bottom right: Testing the Tensegrity models

This workshop concluded with a review and discussion of the work and proposals. 

Proposals were given a lot of focused thought and were site specific.

Prototyping (model making) Workshop
Developing the work of the Design Workshop, prototype models were made of the design proposals using smaller scale versions of the larger set of materials we had.  Our set of material resources included cardboard sheets, rolls and tubes, paper and card, milk bottles, scooby string, Perspex samples, old estate agent boards and old packing material.  Beyond the standard set of materials you would expect to find in a school art room, all the materials we resourced were free and fully recyclable.  This met the requirements of the school's environmental and sustainability policy.

The kids really engaged with the process of designing directly with materials.  Scissors replaced pencils and the materials replaced paper.  The results were very impressive, especially considering they were produced by a class of 10 year olds. 

Models made, based on the drawn designs prepared earlier.  Testing structure, space, light and form on a small scale.
Bottom right is a rather cool beach hut.

From the set of models, a selection of designs were chosen to build at a larger scale as architectural installations. 

Making Workshops

The Random Funky Festival Pavilion.
One of the designs chosen to work up to full-scale.

Case study
The Random Funky Festival Pavilion is the design of one if the class members. It's a pop-up space to relax with friends and chill-out in. It is assembled from a set of components which can be relocated as required, very quickly.  It consists of a permeable perimeter wall and a central canopy to shade occupants from the sun. Structural triangles in the canopy and their supports assist to hold the installation up efficiently.  It took some time to create and a team of kids enthusiastically volunteered their break times and lunch times to complete it.  Although this firs part was a little labour intensive, an advantage of this workshop process was that the component pieces could be reused for several different installations without a significant amount of additional work.  The young Architect behind this design was delighted to see her work realised. She said it was 'the best day ever'. 

The Random Funky Festival Pavilion.
A pop-up celebration space.

We believe all the children, without exception, gained a lot from this sequence of workshops and significantly developed their understanding of spacial design. We believe the process of working from paper designs, to models, then full scale installations has developed their confidence in spacial and three dimensional design as well as their ability to work with large format materials to build full-scale installations. 

We have found the creativity and enthusiasm of the children incredible and we intend this to be a start of a developing set of workshops with Furzedown Primary School and hopefully others. We'll be posting more work from kids practicing Architecture on this blog site as work develops, so please call back.

Thanks again to Furzedown Primary School, Art Teacher Ms Michaela Truscott and Year 5 Form Teacher Ms Annabel Synge.

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