Steven Powers inspirational project A love Letter to the city. Beautiful graphics involving people living in the community to give them a visual voice. Find out more on his tumblr.
Steven Powers inspirational project A love Letter to the city. Beautiful graphics involving people living in the community to give them a visual voice. Find out more on his tumblr.
Arkki is an interesting non profit, the first school in Finland specialising in providing after school architectural and environmental eduction for children and young adults.
The weekly architectural clubs are tailored for each age range. 4-6 year olds learn about architecture, nature, light, colours and shapes through play and imaginative projects like model making. 7-14 year olds explore issues like ecology and sustainability as well as cultural history and the impact of tradition in design. They also analyse the spatial experience and use their senses to experiment with space.
As they get old the topics become more complex, by the time they reach the 14-18 year old age group they explore design problems from small scale like designing door handles to the larger designing houses and city planning. They also learn about architectural history and contemporary architecture.
Around 500 children between the age of 4-19 participate in the courses on a long term bases. They also run short term courses every year.
They use a range of methods including models, 1:1 scale, using their senses to experience architecture and digital tools. Play is essential as it is the way children explore the world and learn natural, so a playful approach allows the kids to use their imagination, intelligence and experiment.
Find out more on their website arkki.net
“Some of these kids just don’t know how good they are, how smart and how much they have to say, you can tell them, you can shine that light on them one human interaction at a time…”
This melted my heart. Ryan Weimer, who has three children with Spinal Muscular Atrophy started the non profit Magic Wheelchair to give kids in wheelchairs the halloween costumes of their dreams. Read the full article here.
“My favourite thing about Magic Wheelchair is that it’s a creative way to create awareness in communities. It’s a great way to make kids feel included.” Ryan Weimar
Find out more at Magic Wheelchair.
Ideo recently published their Field Guide to Human Centred Design which reminded me of the importance of people centred design and architecture in todays rapidly changing world.
I recently worked in a recently renovated theatre and it was a great lesson on how essential it was to design spaces for how people would actually use them instead of just the aesthetics. I had many gripes about the architecture. The architects had obvviously designed what the client wanted, a grand building that stood out in the streetscape and city. But for those of us working there the new design was tricky to navigate; pillars that prevented patrons from seeing where the bar was, high bar tops difficult for shorter staff to work or be seen, locking doors that made it hard to get around the building.
The way architecture is taught in architecture schools means that people are not at the centre of the design process. There is a discussion of aesthetics, the image, context, light, the form. this continues to the office where the concern is about cost savings and making the client happy with little dicussion of people or how they actually use or engage with the space.
All to often as architects we feel as though we must be the master builder, designing to the last detail. Which is fair enough especially as the icons in our profession work in this way. However participation does not prevent this method rather it looks at a holistic approach which encompases not just the design and construction but also puts the end users at the centre of the design process.
John Habrekens explanation of participation has stuck with me since seeing the brilliant documentary De Drager. He spoke of participation being a paternalistic that implies that professionals make the world and they are willing to let the people in. Whereas it is the other way round. There is the built environment that has its own laws and has been around for thousands of years, so instead we should ask to what extent can the architect particpate to make it better. Not participation of the people in the work of the architect. Creating a new dialogue with the building and the professional role. If we get feedback from the way people use the building and we can understand this. We begin to ask ourselves what is the intervention the architect can make?
His interest in feedback is similar to that of the lean start up, which advocates testing and iteration, creating short feedback loops that inform the next iteration. In impact design or people centred design we are constantly looking at and evaluating the impact of a project on the community. This hardly ever happens in traditional architectural practice. The project ends with the construction of the building with little follow up to see what lessons could be learned or feedback gained. This should be practice that is wide spread in the profession. Not just the impact to the individuals using the space but also the wider social and economic community. It begins with actually speaking to the people who use or will use the spaces.
A brilliant example is ‘Koolhaas Houselife.’ Exploring the everyday life of the housekeeper of one of architect Rem Koolhaas’ buildings. It’s reality versus the polished images often depicted.
Based in the new wing of Somerset House the Civic Shop is a retail space that “showcases the work of a new generation of civic activists and social designers – inventors of new public spaces, new economies and champions of public good in everyday life.” It is run by a group of people looking at ways to reframe our everyday experiences, socially and physically. The group includes, Cassie Robinson, Snook,Women’s Engineering Society and Future Gov.
They explore and question the relationship between the commercial and civic sphere. By civic they refer to public space and how that is becoming more and more privatised and commercialised today. Community centres and public libraries are shutting down, even town squares are being closed off. Civic functions are starting to take notes from corporate spheres in order to increase “efficiency” and “productivity”.
The store is designed to encourage people to explore questions such as “Has the world of commerce encroached too much on our civic spaces, and how much do we care?” There are items for sale as well as things that are free and the money generated goes back to the causes that inspired the products. It is interesting that they use a familiar typology, retail, as a way to engage and inform the public about social and civic initiatives as well as to question what is happened around us. Cassie also makes a weekly podcast, which explores the wider discourse.
Here are some of the participants
A-Z Genova Project
A-Z Genova Project– 26 Urban interactions in 2 days. The project explored Genova as a city in decline, where the built environment is increasingly seen as a challenge. The interest was in how interpretation shapes our reality, and ways to adapt perception to mediate change. Taking inspiration from an Italian phrase used to call for change, “Cambiare dalla a alla zeta / Change from a to z”, the city was framed using the alphabet. Each letter identifying theme of the city, with an interaction created to make a new perspective. For example the response for G for Gardens was to create mini gardens.
Dearest Scotland is an apolitical campaign crowdsourcing future visions of Scotland for a common good. They ask people to write a letter “dearest Scotland” to the future citizens of the country. Be it literal, fictional, poetic or metaphoric. Run by Snook in Glasgow, letters are collected, published and shared with the world. The aim is to give citizens a platform to share their thoughts and voice that is often not shown in the media. They recently successfully ran a crowdfunding campaign to raise £10,000 of funding to publish a book of Dearest Scotland letters.
Started by the Noun Project, KindSigns is a movement using signage as a force for good. The Noun Project is on a mission to create, share and celebrate the worlds visual language. They started KindSigns a series of open sourced design workshops where participants get the chance to create their own personalised KindSign and place it at a location they choose and inspire others around them.
I’ve been having some ideas about projects I’d like to do, but haven’t done much about them. So I thought it’d be a good idea to list the ones that have been on my mind and write a little exploration about them.
Superhero definition: A type of character possessing extra ordinary talents. They have a moral code and desire to help people.
Inspired by the Monster Street Supplies Store and would love to do a project that encourages kids to explore their imagination. I’m really interested in making and encouraging people to talk and explore through making, so the idea is that It’d be a series of workshops with kids aged 8-12, asking them to make a superhero mask/ costume that could change their environment.
It’d start with a mapping of the local community and the problems they perceive in their community. These could be the villain of the story. We’d then explore solutions and inspirational projects. The fun bit would be imagining, designing and making the superhero who’d be able to tackle those issues. Focusing on inventing the tools we’d use simple materials like cardboard.
I love the idea of a moving interactive project. I was at first interested in a transportable space or pavilion but now I’m thinking about cycling as a mode of transport. The idea would be to give people a voice the chance to change their environment. To make an impact somehow.
We could project wishes onto empty spaces/ dilapidated buildings, there are lots in Glasgow. Or reimagined existing spaces and places. Whether it’s through text, images or sounds. We could paint the city, project stories, write love letters to the city, visualise the future, highlight important places in the city….
I was particularly drawn to “Before I die” the project by Candy Chang where people wrote their wishes on a wall painted as a chalkboard. I have some ideas of how you could transform walls to make them more engaging and playful. It would be interesting to make them into spaces that could be adapted by passersby. Leaving their imprint on the city in some way.
It could be a wall that becomes a musical instrument. People playing it as they walk by it and the music created could be recorded over time. It’d be fantastic to create a feedback loop, an interaction between past interactions and the new recordings. It could be a wall that turns into a place to sit and have lunch in summer, protect you from the rain or even a place to have a nap.
I like the idea of changing the image of something. Reframing something by taking it out of its context.
Hoxton street monster supplies aka Ministry of Stories is a fantastic project in London’s East End. Hoxton Street Monster Supplies provides monster themed goods like dragon food and the thickest human snot. It is a front for the Ministry of Stories a writing program that inspires 8-18 years olds through the power of story telling.
It was started as a pilot project by Lucy McNab, Ben Payne and Alistair Hall. Inspired to start one after attending a workshop on running a not-for-profit organisation by Dave Eggers founding member of 826 Valencia, the first of this type of program. 826 Valencia was opened in 2002 in San Francisco the location they got for their planned literacy workshops was zoned for retail so they needed to sell something. They came up with a pirate themed shop with writing workshops at the back. The idea proved so popular that chapters sprung across the U.S from superheroes in New York to outer space in Seattle.
Lucy and Ben were able to secure seed funding from the Arts Council and JJ Charitable Trust but it all took off when author Nick Hornby joined them. They soon set up shop in Hackney, East London with the aim to inspire a nation of storytellers.
Design is one of the key focus. As Lucy McNab says “the quality of design is a really important part of creating the fiction.” Lucy and Ben are co-directors with Alistair as creative director. One of their rules is that everything that is sold works or can be eaten. Production is small, meaning that each idea is carefully thought out and researched. They sometimes collaborate with others, Studio Weave produced Salt Made from Tears. The packaging is simple and thoughtful and the spaces are beautifully designed. The workshop spaces include wall illustrations made by Heather Sloane.
For both children and adults it is a place that encourages them to use their imagination. I would love to see a program like it in here in Glasgow, but for now I for one will definitely be checking them out when I’m next in London.
For more information check out their website
Ministry of Stories http://www.ministryofstories.org/
Horton street monster supplies http://www.monstersupplies.org/
I came to the end of my course in community arts practise, with Impact Arts last week and it seems like a perfect opportunity to reflect on my learnings over the last 6 months.
Everything I’ve learned comes under the umbrella of “be flexible.” We each got a mentor on the course and her biggest tip was, make a plan, see how things go but have a plan B. For my individual project I wanted to get young people to come and engage with Orkidstudio’s EMPOWERMENT exhibition at the Lighthouse Glasgow. I did everything I could think of to get them along, promoting it to youth groups and local schools. But for a mix of reasons, I didn’t get a single teenager along. I was however able to engage with visitors to the exhibition, asking them to participate in building the collaborative cardboard city. This ended up being a wonderful way to do it. Although I didn’t get many teenagers I did get a mix of age groups from children to adults.
With this also comes the need to think about the final result and the impact of the project. Sometimes the client wants a particular thing to display but other times they are more focused on the participation. This was the case with our group project at Darnley Primary School, we let the children decide what they wanted for the project at the start. Starting with a sound and drawing workshop encouraged them to get some ideas going and some themes started to emerge. We realised that a lot of the sounds reminded them of animals and this led to coming up with the idea of making a totem pole.
One of the most interesting things about participation is learning to work with a mix of people. From the organisation, to the client group to working with other practitioners. You never know what people will ask you or what mood they will be in that day. I did my placement withe Creative Pathways, Paisley. It was a fascinating opportunity to see the group of young people from the interview stage to the middle of the project. They started as a lovely group of young people willing to engage with but new additions created more disruptive group dynamics and it was a learning experience to see how the facilitator dealt with it.
Engaging with people is a mixed bag. You never know how they will react to your proposal. I found this at the cardboard city workshops. The people who would join in would often be the ones I wasn’t expecting to take part. It is about creating relationships and one of the simplest ways I’ve discovered is to learn names.
Additionally everyone comes with their own abilities, interests and perspectives. Abilities vary so trying to keep a level playing field whilst making it stimulating for as many as possible is important. With Darnley Primary, the sound and painting workshop worked brilliantly but it was more difficult when we used mud rock. Surprisingly when we got feedback from the kids they loved that it was challenging.
Be prepared to wear a lot of hats. Successful participation involves pre planning, monitoring the finances, communication, e.t.c not just working with people. You might even end up working in things you know nothing about. You have to shake your fears of failure or the unknown, especially if your asking others to do so too.
For me the best part is seeing people grow more confident in their creative skills own creativity. From the teachers at Darnley Primary who by the end of the workshops were making things in their own spare time, to seeing people who said they were bad at art building a cardboard building and being proud of what they’d made. I realised that even if you can get only one person to engage it can be incredibly rewarding.!
“Making things the best versions of themselves…. how can we make it the most eventuated, most wonderful version of itself… rather than trying to make Romford Copenhagen”
Studio Weave are a London-based architecture practice that are doing some fantastic and beautiful work. Started by Maria Smith and Je Ahn. They have a passion for narrative as a tool for designing, engaging with people and a love of making which has allowed Studio Weave to deliver projects that nurture a strong sense of place.
What I love about their projects is the sense of joy and playfulness that is evident. Each project is unique yet there seems to be a sense of the fantastical and craftmanship that runs through every project.
I remember the lovely lecture Maria Smith gave at the Mackintosh School of Architecture a couple of years ago.
And check out Maria Smith’s writings for the Riba Journal. They are brilliantly funny and irreverent 🙂
It is essential that everyone in the town, including those that will be dead by the time the project begins construction, is happy with every aspect of all the proposals. We have therefore carried out extensive community engagement over the last 50 years. This has resulted in reams of fantastically useless questionnaires that the council does not have the resources or intelligence to interpret, and consultation fatigue on a spectacular scale. Last year alone saw three deaths that have been linked to pointless questionnaires.
Maria Smith, from the article Civic Slide on RIBA Journal