Having the language and being able to identify what works/ what doesn’t in our surroundings is the first step to building better communities. It’s never too early to learn about design and what is required to have something built.
vHH Architects have been taking part in Open City’s Architecture in Schools program since 2017, when we were first approached by Open City to see if we would like to volunteer some time to bring Architecture into primary schools. As a lot of vHH’s work is within the education sector, we thought it a good opportunity to better educate ourselves as designers as to how schools are used, and in turn get to work with the main users of the buildings we design – students.
The format of the program is a series of workshops run by Open City, where over 20 primary school classes are paired up with an architecture firm. The architects, alongside the teachers, challenge the students to imagine their ideal city; be it a smart city, a celebration city, a city of the future, as past briefs set by the Open City Education team have entailed. We also get to do a site visit, where we take our primary school class to an exemplary building in the city. We usually have a tour of the building, followed by some sketching, which usually develops into an opportunity to teach the kids to draw in plan or section, learn about scale and show them how to measure a space using their bodies.
Some teachers will take it a step further and even intertwine architectural education into other subjects like maths and reading. At the end of the workshops, each class develops a physical model of the city they have imagined and presents this to Open City for Judging. This culminates in an inspiring award ceremony, hosted at Canary Wharf by Canary Wharf Group (the main sponsor for the program) where all the classes get to see what others have created. The students receive awards for their creations and give wonderful, insightful speeches about their designs. Additional support for this program comes from Tower Hamlets Regeneration Authority, Howard de Walden Group and the National Education Union.
As architects, it is important to understand how the buildings we design work day-to-day. As we are all far beyond primary school age, this program is a fantastic opportunity for us to spend some time in schools, in a classroom, and identify what works and what doesn’t. Additionally, and most importantly, the reason we take part in these programs and enjoy doing so, is because fostering knowledge and awareness in children about the built environment, how it affects our day to day and how it can be improved, is crucial in cultivating the next generation. Having the language and being able to identify what works/ what doesn’t in our surroundings is the first step to building better communities. It’s never too early to learn about design and what is required to have something built. And as an extra bonus, it is always incredibly fun as children always bring a new and far more creative solutions to design problems!