Pihla Meskanen, the director of Arkki, School of Architecture for Children and Youth opening the Creating the Future 2.0 –international conference on architecture education for children and youth, held in Helsinki 8-9th May 2014. Photo: Arkki.
Pihla Meskanen, the director of Arkki, School of Architecture for Children and Youth opening the Creating the Future 2.0 –international conference on architecture education for children and youth, held in Helsinki 8-9th May 2014. Photo: Arkki.

Creating the Future Together with Children and Youth

Architectural education on a firm foundation!

2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of Arkki, School of Architecture for Children and Youth which offers primary education in architecture with an advanced syllabus. The seminar Creating the Future 2.0, held as part of the anniversary programme, demonstrated that Arkki has been a model and inspiration for a large group of agents in architectural education around the world. The lectures and workshops of the warm-spirited seminar presented diverse starting points and approaches, strategies and methods, and theory and practice.

In his opening speech, the Finnish Member of Parliament Paavo Arhinmäki (Minister of Culture and Sport 2011–2014) stressed the importance of architectural education and drew attention to the newly published children’s cultural policy programme, which pays particular attention to children’s everyday environments. Jaana Räsänen, special advisor in architectural education at the Architecture Information Centre Finland, in turn presented an overview of the national, regional and local architecture policy programmes as promoters of architectural education.

Here in Finland we should indeed be proud of the system of primary art education. The pioneering work being done in children’s architectural education by the schools of architecture and fine arts as well as the creative architectural and cultural policy programmes create new opportunities for architectural education. In addition, the premises of the primary and high school curricula that bring architectural education within everyone’s reach. These form a unique and solid basis in promoting an understanding of architecture world wide, which we will hopefully retain in the future when we learn and receive new inspirations from international trends.

Searching for a common language

The Hungarian researcher András Cseh was concerned about the lack of a common language between architects and clients. In the research programme Pre Architectura that he has initiated, he has looked for a solution to the problem by arranging joint workshops for architecture students and school pupils. The interaction offers the opportunity to practice discussion about architecture in a language that is mutually understandable.

_DSC0121  How big  How big 3  How big 4

How big is a tree? -workshop by András Cseh. Photos: András Cseh.

A weekly hobby at architecture schools for children and youth

Arkki has touched the lives of thousands of children and youths through its primary education system (which progresses from one year to the next) and the workshops and summer camps it has arranged. Pihla Meskanen, Arkki’s director, emphasises as the starting points in their teaching the diversity of architecture, personal experiential learning, three-dimensional building activity, the significance of all the senses in observations, and learning through play – and, the most important, the process itself and the experience of achievement!

In Estonia the Arhitektuuri huvikool, managed by the Estonian Centre of Architecture since 2011, is one of the most recently established schools where children and youths can come together weekly to practice architecture as a hobby. Kadri Klementi and Kaire Nõmm from the school, explained that at the centre of their teaching is the study of space and the development of spatial thinking. In addition to drawing, designing, building, lectures and discussions, spaces in the urban environment are also studied by temporarily taking control of them – by creating a personal relationship with them.

In the footsteps of the hero architect – learning by designing

In Japan, researcher Junko Taguchi has been involved in creating, together with the teachers, the curriculum for the private children’s architecture school Ito Juku in Tokyo. The school has now been operating for three years. One of the teachers is the chairman of the supporting organisation behind the school, architect Toyo Ito. The world-famous architect carries responsibility for the promotion of the understanding of architecture among children and youths! The school offers twenty-day study programmes for secondary school pupils, which consist of lectures, studying the urban environment, design workshops and presentations of ideas and designs. During the autumn term the theme is House and during the spring term City.

The network of architectural education as a national player

Children’s architectural education in Austria is carried out through a network of active regional agents. Through joint initiatives, projects and webpages, the regional work also receives national visibility and influence. Barbara Feller, head of the foundation Architekturstiftung Österreich, and Monika Abendstein, director of KUNSCHTschule, drew attention from among the Austrian projects to the Technik Bewegt week, which kindles young people’s interest in technical fields such as architecture, as well as the book series Archi & Turi, the stories and exercises in which familiarise pre-school-aged children with architecture.

Into architecture 1:1

According to Norwegian architect Alf Howlid, senior adviser at Norsk Form, it is best to dive directly into architecture. By building three dimensional constructions – for example, from wooden sticks, prefabricated joining elements and textiles or form rubber elements at the scale 1:1 – it is possible to demonstrate structural approaches in architecture. In workshops, exercises in balance and durability are excellently integrated with the history of architecture, which is reviewed through seven steps, from the pyramids to contemporary architecture. Using the human body as a part of the structure helps the participants to understand the statics, pressures and tensions of structures.

2 Testaus  3 Nosto  4 liitos  5 Tarkastelu

Into Architecture -workshop by Alf Howlid. Photos: Arkki.

From the personal living environment to interaction between cultures

Columbian researcher Andreia Penaloza Caicedo is searching for the children’s architectural education of his continent by charting the Latin American angle of architectural education. According to him, the process starts by learning about one’s own living environment, including the debate about its significance and influence. Equally important in the formation of values, however, is to be able to compare one’s own environment to the environments of others, created by different cultures. This viewpoint on the significance of the interaction between cultures was shared by the Spaniard Solange Espoille, who arranges multinational workshops, and by the Panamanian Juan Del Barrio, who focuses on workshops particularly aimed at the children of low-income families.

Architectural education in schools linking together different subjects

Pablo Amor and Cristina Llorent aim with their EMaC project to take architecture to Spanish school classes as a theme that links together different school subjects. Their objective is to inspire school pupils to study the built environment, to develop the means and skills of visualisation, and to promote active citizenship.

Making architecture a research theme that links together different school subjects is a topical challenge also in Finland. Head teacher Niina Hummelin presented a teaching package Tilat, talot ja kaupungit [Spaces, Houses and Cities] produced by Arkki, which responds to the challenge by offering web-based material for the use of teachers that is based on the primary education curriculum, the contents of which have been divided into three themes: the basic concepts of architecture, housing and the city.

Developing operational models and tools for designing together

In an example from Britain, architectural education creates the prerequisites for interaction between children and architects. Dr. Rosie Parnell from the University of Sheffield has studied the interaction from the viewpoints of the participating children and architects, as well as process development and learning. Her results are presently being compiled in a handbook titled Designing with Children, intended for teachers and architects and due to be published later this year. A website database with the same name presents the already completed design processes and their results.

Hanneke Scott – van Wel’s architectural firm in Glasgow has specialised in developing workshops and tools, the objective of which is to playfully encourage people to create an interactive relationship with the spaces and places of the built environment, making it easier for them to participate in the design of them. A particular development target is 1:1-sized building blocks and the potential they create.

Interactive design and participatory methods have raised interest also in Finland. In the TEKES (Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation) funded InnoSchool research project, carried out jointly by three universities, the school of the future was developed from the viewpoints of architecture, pedagogics, business economics and media education. The project proceeded in pilot cases involving researchers, students, teachers and different networks using the methods of collaborative design. According to Dr. Helena Teräväinen, the ten theses of the project’s final report encapsulate the transformation and role of the school as a so-called mediator, but still leave open the relationship between learning and the architecture of the space: “the classroom of the future can be located anywhere”.

Sini Meskanen made her masters thesis in architecture, titled Tulevaisuuden koulu lasten silmin [The school of the future through the eyes of a child] as part of the Innoschool project. In it she looked at the visions and dreams of children and youths regarding the spaces and places of learning. In participatory workshops they proceeded from small personal spaces to classrooms and shared spaces, places of encounter and even outside the building. In conclusion, the diploma thesis presented five typologies for the school of the future.

Read more about the speakers and their work at Creating the Future website.

The Creating the Future conference was organised by Arkki, School of Architecture for Children and Youth in cooperation with Architecture Information Centre Finland.