Saturday, 14 January 2017

Art and Architecture

Shelter is one of the basic human requirements but appears as any number of solutions in the built environment.  At Hampton School's Art Department, with the RIBA Schools Programme, we thought it would be fun to explore this subject with a Year 8 Class and give them a brief to design and build their own personal shelter.

Examples of shelters
A shelters could be anything, to meet any purpose.  The class was introduced to this idea and we discussed different examples in relation to how they might approach a design of their own.  It became evident to the students that an Architectural solution would draw upon their knowledge of Art, Maths and Science based subjects.

Some ideas of how materials in sheets can make fixed and flexible structures
Before they began the design process, we experimented with card and paper, making different types of structures to see how structure and form could be created.  Several examples were tabled to explore, including folded and slotted structures, bolted panel structures, modular origami, box nets and transforming polyhedra etc.

Exploring how a sheet of card can be turned in to a structure, a sculpture, a 3D form etc.
Children are diverse thinkers and their creativity is not as restricted to the preconceptions we have as adults, which results from years of our own experience and learning.  The connections they made with the ideas given to them was very creative.  It was great fun to work with the class and be part of the 'light bulb' moments when they realise their designs and how to construct them.  Because the shelters were to their individual requirements, they had a variety of very imaginative and personal functions including: A garden sun trap, a paintball hide, a reading nook, a star-gazing shelter, a lunar pod and a gaming pod etc.

A selection of the Class' design solutions.  All very achievable on a larger scale
The final works were to be constructed from 8' by 4' Correx sheets, so the class was encouraged to think how their full-size designs might relate to this:  How big would the final piece be, what size of components can be achieved from the sheets, and how many sheets would be required?  Their design ideas were set out in drawings with notes on how they would be fabricated and assembled.

Setting out their design ideas in drawings
(Photos by Paul Cochrane)
From the designs we scaled up the components with templates to cut them out in Correx which were bolted together.  It was exciting to see the enthusiasm of the class to fabricate and construct their full size shelters and they worked efficiently, setting themselves up in to teams to achieve their goals.

Making the full-size shelters
(Photos by Paul Cochrane)
The shelters, architectural studies and design process formed part of an Art Exhibition at the School in December 2016, held for the parents.  Architecture is an interesting subject because it can be a very individual pursuit with very public result like Art, but can also require a rationality and a social responsibility to its users, which relate to more objective subject areas.  Its a fusion of many subjects including Art, Sculpture, Geometry, Materials, Maths and Science, which to me makes them all intrinsically linked and equally relevant.

The Exhibition
I thought the class did exceptionally well and I am glad they enjoyed the process.  I hope it will encourage them to look at their academic subjects and explore other opportunities where Art, Maths and Science might connect.  

Thanks again to Hampton School's Art Department and the RIBA's Schools Programme.

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Importance of Art and Culture Subjects in Schools

Thank you to Innovate My School for publishing this article exploring Architecture in the classroom.  We have had a lot of fun experimenting with structures, materials, forms and spaces.  Children's creativity appears to be without limits and it is encouraging when they see the workshops as opportunities for self expression.  Their reinterpretations of their set brief can be hugely imaginative and demonstrates how much they engage with the subject.  We also look at where the work draws on their knowledge from different and academic subjects.  Architecture is good for showing that subjects are not isolated from each other, particularly the Arts and Sciences.  They are all mutually relevant and finding the connections can be fun, especially when you are building something...

Innovate My School: The Importance of Art and Culture Subjects in Schools:

Architectural Design is not a subject normally taught in schools. Because it presents something of a novelty to children, it often produces some very creative and exciting results. Furzedown Primary School in South West London regularly hold a sequence of lessons in its summer term focusing on this with a Year 5 class. The process starts looking at structure and continues with spacial design, materials, drawing techniques followed by model making. The children are normally given a brief and asked to design a pavilion. To conclude the sequence of lessons, a selection of projects is chosen to build full scale.
Because the subject is seen as a novelty, it gives an opportunity to experiment and play with ideas, while still addressing many relevant areas of the National Curriculum and the school’s targets for child development. The architecture lessons draw connections between the artistic and cultural-based subjects, and technically-oriented subjects such as Maths and Science. The children apply their knowledge of these implicitly to their ideas and creations, and combine them into a single focus.
In this respect, where the process really takes off is when individual children see opportunities to achieve a goal which is very personal to them. Working outdoors, one exercise involved garden canes made up with eyelets at the ends so they could be connected with cable ties to make structures. The children investigated the different structures, enclosures and dens they could make with this system combined with sheets and boards. They looked at the pros and cons of different shapes and the structural benefit of triangles. One child came from a large family who all shared a small house. She saw an opportunity to create her own personal space in her back garden and took the entire kit home with her. I understand she spent a lot of the Summer out there. The experiments in the school courtyard were her prototype, combining technical issues of structure, material selection and shelter with cultural issues of spacial design and personal aesthetics.
With a selection of larger scale installations under construction, another child saw the opportunity to design and create a bench, which could be installed in each. It was important for him to be able to lie down and experience the environment of each pavilion, while being able to chill-out and observe the passing clouds. The bench design required the application of structural, material, aesthetic, and ergonomic considerations.
These experiments and lessons do demonstrate tangible and important links between Arts and technical subjects by application. Simply by identifying the differences, the relationships are highlighted and the children enjoyed making the connections, especially in the focus of a personal goal. Technical academic subjects might be objective, but life throws up many subjective variables. Building bridges in this way allows art and cultural subjects to support Technical subjects and fortify their importance in the National Curriculum. For those who consider themselves to be particularly technically minded, this process allows the student the opportunity to engage with their creative selves in ways they might never have known.