Saturday, 20 December 2014

SkyPlay Pavilion

This is our entry for the Arch Triumph Sky Pavilion 2015. The site is the gardens outside the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, London. The entry draws inspiration from the work we did at Architecture for Kids. It is an architectural play set, scaled up to a giant scale. The coloured perspex components play with the daylight to create an active and ever changing environment: The sky brought to ground level. Potentially some neat lighting effects can be achieved at night too. 

The perspex people are for scale, not part of the actual proposals.  The idea was to eliminate the reliance on CG images which dominates presentations.  The line drawings are kept simple too, with the intention of trying to sell the proposals with the model alone - the model being a faithful representation of the finished article: materials and construction methods the same, the only difference being scale.
Competition winners can be seen at Arch Triumph.

Also a couple of details here to show how the light can work through the material and geometry:

Laser cut perspex by Unit 22 Model Makers
Photographs by Corin Ashleigh-Brown 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Things to do when you're stuck 'on hold'

There's surprisingly a lot of time in the working day lost to things like waiting on email responses, stuck on hold on the phone or waiting for the computer to refresh and speed up.  Technologies always promise to make our lives more efficient and easier, but that's very rarely the reality.  Luckily I keep a little kit of projects by my desk so that instead of being stuck waiting for the working environment to catch up, I can experiment with small ideas for potentially larger projects, or prototypes for our adventures at Architecture for Kids.  Here's a few of the things I've been playing with:

Tensegrity Structures

Playing with Tensegrity structures, and looking at what they might offer on a large scale.
(Lolly pop sticks and elastic bands)  

If you want to really explore an idea with fresh minds, get kids involved!
The design question was - How can we make a tensegrity bridge?
Answer - You take a tensegrity tower and do this! What's your problem?

Modular Origami

Modular origami experiments are useful for exploring how one single component can make a multitude of different objects.  Scale up the pieces and there's an exciting prospect of using prefabrication and standardisation to create different self-supporting structures to a variety of design conditions.
These structures can transform and change shape.  Adding squares to the geometric arrangements allows this flexibility.  The cub-octahedron on the right is based on Buckminster Fuller's Jitterbug (although it doesn't have the same flexibility as that because of the extent to which the modules can articulate).
Playing with the possibilities of modular origami, scaled up to building scale.

Articulated Planar Geometries

There is a considerable difference between what can be achieved digitally in design, and what can be achieved with the real fabrication of materials.  Since the introduction of 3D modelling to architectural design, the Building Industry has been working to catch up with growing pressures to achieve double curves in planar materials.  Scribing sheets with triangular patterns begins to allow 3D forms to be articulated in the surfaces.  

Controlling the pattern enables different 3D forms which could make enclosures or roofs.

One design exercise with a set of Year 5 kids was to see how 2D sheets could become a 3D enclosure for a product like an indoor enclosure for an NHS Health Check point.  The study went as far as to template out the parts, sized to standard 8' by 4' card or correx sheets.

Slotted Structural Assemblies

We acquired a stack of unwanted estate agents boards and started to look at what we could make from them.  We cut smaller card pieces out to trial designs for chairs, looking to see how the boards might work best structurally, and what might look best.

The Library Chair is 100% slotted plastic board with neat alcoves for storing your favourite books in.

Playing with ways of slotting card together to make different forms, structures and designs - mostly from a selection of text books on the subject 
The Year 5 children were much more inventive, using scissors instead of pencils, they created a series of interlocking panels which made some fantastic spaces. 

Using a standard set of circular and square interlocking pieces laser cut in perspex, a selection of free-standing structures were created to see how light performed and behaved through their layers.

Using scaled down card pieces, we experimented in how we could slot together the estate agents boards to make structural assemblies.

This was our starting point.  Because the boards slot together on the diagonal, they challenge our preconceptions of the built environment being made up of vertical and horizontal elements, separated by right angles.  This starting point was a uniform solution...

What the kids did with them was much more inventive,

and den building became a regular lunch time activity during the summer.

Panellised Enclosures

We looked at other ways to make constructions with the estate agents boards, with a minimal amount of alteration so that the kids could do the work.  Connecting them at the corners enabled 3D structural forms to be made.

Most fun was a giant wind ball which could roll around the playground whilst the kids tumbled in and out.

Monocoque Geometric Structures
This was a very simple idea of taking a select number of shapes, connecting them as monocoque structures and creating different shaped enclosures.  

Rapid Deployment Structures

These up-pops are spring loaded and fold flat for transit.  On delivery they automatically re-form in to their original shape.  Neat little ideas for rapid deployment structures.

There is a lot of reliance in the design professions on digital technologies - possibly too much.  When the server is down you can always rely on the kettle to make a cup of tea, and your two hands to experiment with structure and space.  Experimenting with cheap or reclaimed materials, on studies which promise to offer something interesting, functional and economical scaled up to full size, is really fun and exciting.  IT issues don't need to be a drag.  Think of them as an opportunity to think and play.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Working with the Creative Genius of Children

We're delighted that this article has been published by Innovate My School today:

Children learn very quickly.  Their learning patterns are led by their conceptual thoughts at first and then by experience as they get older.  When children are faced with new challenges, their thinking methods are not confined to established preconceptions of how things should look or work.  Instead they are more fluid, often very confident and usually unique.

This series of Monster drawings by Jack (age 3) were presented with a very rational and clear description of what each of the monsters did,  identifying all their features, and reasoning behind even differences in colour.

As kids get older, conventions take over and their creativity becomes more tailored to established preconceptions.  Their concepts are represented in a more common artistic language which we all can understand.  Once this development takes place, it is very difficult to return to the simple naivety which we once had.

This picture by Bobby (age 9) does not need much explaining - it is easy to read.  He is also experimenting with perspective.

We have been running workshops called Architecturefor Kids At Furzedown Primary School, London SW17.  Its not about the things which we all take for granted in our built environment, such as walls, windows, doors, floors and roofs.  Instead, it’s looks at structure, space, colour, materials and is very playful.  Because architectural design is not usually a subject taught before college, we have had the advantage of working with the hidden creativity of enthusiastic Year 5 children (10 year olds)  on this very fresh subject.  The series of workshops took place over a summer term and investigated structure, architectural drawing, design, model making / rapid prototyping, and making full-scale installations; A sequence of stages stretching from concept to realisation of a small architectural project.

Extracts from the introduction to design:  Each workshop began with an introduction to the subject area, and an explanation of what we would be trying to achieve in the lesson.  This is a snap-shot looking at how materials, colours, textures, form and structure might be combined.
We had a set palate of materials and resources with which to create.  Mostly this was free or donated and almost all of it was recyclable.  It included paper, string, role, cardboard tubes, including large ones from carpet shops, old estate agents boards, sheet card and packing card, nuts and bolts and cable ties.

Because the rules of application were not prescribed, children were able to experiment, which led to come involved narratives, and a lot of creative investment.  The materials we had to work with could be used for small scale models (card, cardboard tubes and scooby-string etc.) and then transferred up to full size installations (with carpet tube rolls, estate agents boards and robe etc.)

So with a road map to develop ideas but no set rule book to prescribe how creativity is managed, here are a number of projects which the children engages with and the ideas they came up with:

Labib looked at triangular forms and how flat surfaces can be turned in to three dimensional articulated surfaces, to create an exo-skeleton body suit.

We took card and investigated ways in which it could be connected, to make shelters, enclosures and dens.  These studies were then scaled up with estate agents boards.  Putting slots on the diagonals eliminated any reference to the vertical and horizontal axis.  To make them stand up, triangular structures had to be found at unfamiliar angles.  The variety and combinations of boards which the children discovered were much greater than I would have imagined, approaching it with a supposed experience and rationality.  
Structural investigations led to design drawings then study models and finally architectural installations by our budding young Architects.  Top centre was a cool beach hut by Freddy.  Top right became the Random Funky Festival Pavilion by Katie, which was developed in to a full scale structure.  The structural principles of the canopy were developed from our structural workshops looking at triangulated frames vs panels.  Katie made the connection of assembling panels in a triangular arrangement to make a lightweight, structural plane.  This was tested first with the model before progressing to the final installation and it worked really well. 

Thinking like a child, with naivety and pure experimentation is a very difficult thing to achieve, once our thoughts are subject to our experience and preconceptions of how the world should be.  It has been a real joy for me to witness how the children have worked and developed their paths to design and create their projects.  Children working from enthusiasm, combined with an inquisitive nature is a very powerful recipe for creativity.  Despite 20 years + in practice as an architect, this has to be one of the most fun experiences I have had and one that I have learnt the most from.   I hope the children got a lot out of it too (I’m sure they did) and I look forward to the opportunity of working with the next Year 5 in May 2015.