Little Architect, invited to participate in the International Conference AAXX100

Ruth Asawa, whose commitment to art education and the improvement of the school curriculum, has clearly influenced my work, was a Japanese American art and education activist devoting many years of her life to create and consolidate an intertwined relationship between artists and primary schools through her successful Alvarado Art Workshop in San Francisco. Asawa, who studied at the Black Mountain College, knew that artists are key figures for schools and I firmly believe that architects, more specifically female architects, should go to schools too. WHY? Because after many years, more than twelve, practising architecture in my own office, I realized that a real dialogue towards better design of cities, can´t happen if the counterpart has no knowledge about the main points of the conversation. In my view, it is our duty as architects to offer knowledge about architecture and cities, to establish bridges of profound communication with society and to make visible and tangible our role as women in architecture.

Little Architect is an educational program introducing school children to the topic of architecture. We are part of the Architectural Association Visiting School and have been offering our lessons in London primary schools since 2013. The goal of our work is to educate school children, aged four to eleven, in the observation, understanding and questioning of their own built environment. Our aim is to create a proactive and committed relationship between citizens and the city. I will show how Little Architect uses architecture as a tool to transform and enrich children´s understanding of their habitat. The chosen context for these lessons, state schools, offers a wide and diverse spectrum of children, enabling the programme to bring new role models into the classroom, unmasking a male based curriculum, while fostering a creative way of thinking. Little Architect teaches children to think about architecture, not to make architecture, to empower children in having firm attitudes towards a local and global sustainable development, very much in line with the Unesco objectives for 2030.

Little Architect, was originally sketched out by Mark Cousins in 2011, but the strict rules of children safety made it impossible to be developed. In 2010, I came to live in London and after spending a couple of years researching and testing a methodology to incorporate architecture in the UK school curriculum, I offered my experiences to the AA. Natasha Sandmeier in the first instance, but primarily Christopher Pierce´s, director of the AA Visiting School, rapidly saw the educational strengths of this project and gave the green light to the programme which has so far reached nearly 5,000 children.

The beginning of the negative female stereotypes starts as far as Pandora and Eva, which means a quasi-eternal “guilty” portrait of women. After generations of women fighting for equality we still find behaviors, songs´ lyrics, adverts, movies or music videos, giving us a distorted image of women, shaping and perpetuating the “white male hero”, so when we, female architects, visit the primary school classroom we are not just teaching about architecture and the city, we are making various feminist statements.

Learning is never an isolated process, it is contextual. Learning happens everywhere, through formal and informal education. In both types of education, we find the official, the hidden and the null curriculum.[1] The official curriculum in the UK is the one that Little Architect has carefully studied to incorporate architecture in the statutory learning hours but what we are doing from inside the education system is an attack to the hidden and the null curriculum. We do our approach from three angles: 1.Taken down stereotypes about contemporary architecture and modernity 2. Incorporating a positive, powerful and active female role into the children´s imagery 3. Re-training[2] the senses in order to grow children´s capabilities to observe and being curious, hence their critical thinking.

Maria Acaso, Spanish writer, art activist and professor, maintains that any act of teaching is a performance[3], we share her idea and we have designed the scrip like this:

 We go to teach to schools. In GOING, in moving ourselves towards children rather than expecting them to come to our place, we have made one of our fundamentals. We are setting horizontal relationships and generating in the children an unconscious feeling of self-steam. We are erasing hierarchies. Architect = Primary School teacher. We, female architects, become part of their daily environment thus we become familiar and trustful. Bruno Munari´[1]s called for demolishing the myth of the “star” artist, in our case we are demolishing the “star” architect.

At early ages children, usually don´t know the meaning of the word architecture and generally they confuse our discipline with archaeologists or builders. Showing that we, female architects, have: Designed architecture, controlled a building process, know about materials and construction systems, know about maths and structures, have convinced clients and politicians and ultimately make people lives´ happier: we are offering a brand-new female role model, strongly linked to concepts such as power, knowledge and care. We highlight the role of female architects bringing examples of their work and introducing a narrative to communicate their ideas to children: Alison Brooks, Sarah Wigglesworth, Benedetta Tagliabue, Anna Heringer, Marta Parra& Angela Muller or Zaha Hadid, Lina Bobardi, Gego…etc,

  1. A) Zaha: the super clever woman who lifted a building to run for longer.
  2. B) Benedetta: The caring architect that designed a new landscape for the neighbours. Architecture for the people.[2] “Rebuilding London” Mayor of London. The connectivity and the seeking for new audiences. 700 schools and school teachers.
  3. C) Dolores Victoria Ruiz (Little Architect figure in the class) Tangible, approachable, reachable

Neil Postman´s wrote a poetic definition of childrenChildren, are the living messages that we send to a time we will not see”[3]but it creates a gap too open between adults and children. We like to celebrate the creation of a team and to work for a better future together: Children and Adults.  Social empowerment needs to come together with teaching the tools to reach the ones in power. Some examples of our lessons fostering this empowerment are: Sending postcards to Boris Jonhson(Ex London mayor) sending proposals to improve the Caledonian Clock Tower to the Islington council or improvements in The Royal Dockyard in Chatham to the Heritage Lottery Fund. In less than 15 or 20 years these children will be in charge of London acting like doctors, school teachers, taxi drivers, architects, shop keepers, or maybe politicians and we, female architects, are empowering them to claim for better cities.

“Welcome to the AA, the greatest school of architecture on the planet! In words of Brett Stelee,  there is no other place like The AA, but regardless if his words were accurate or not, the AA is today an influencer, it is a reference in the architecture realm and as Marshall McLuhan stated: The medium is the message, and the message consist of an independent self-funded architectural school teaching architecture in deprived areas of London, this is the most significant aspect here, it is its replica capability, the legacy that it might leave in the educative sector and the position that we, female architects, will address as time passes.

Thank you very much. Dolores Victoria Ruiz Garrido founder and director of Little Architect AA Visiting School.

[1] Jackson, Life in Classrooms, 1968 ( p. 33-34)

[2] Re-training refers to older children attending the last courses in Key Stage Two ( Year 5 and 6) that learnt about their own senses in Nursery and Reception but due to the current use of mobile devices have been

[1] Bruno Munari, Design as Art. 1966

[2] Yona Friedman, Architecture with the people, by the people, for the people. MUSAC. 2011

[3] Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood. 1982

[1] Jackson, Life in Classrooms, 1968 ( p. 33-34)

[2] Re-training refers to older children attending the last courses in Key Stage Two ( Year 5 and 6) that learnt about their own senses in Nursery and Reception but due to the current use of mobile devices have been

[3] Maria Acaso, Pedagogias Invisibles, 2013

Heritage Lottery Fund and Little Architect: Three wonderful projects

Dear Little Architect followers,

Please, find below some pictures from the projects developed thanks to the award given by the Heritage Lottery Fund. A small grant can achieve big targets! We reached children in Chatham, Medway, in Sywell Northhampton and in Clerkenwell, London. Most of them did not know that Architecture and their local Heritage are as relevant and interesting as they are. BIG THANK YOU to everybody involved! More pics coming soon!

Don´t miss them! 

Little Architect supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

 

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Great News!! We have been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant. 

Little Architect has been awarded a grant to run two community projects out of London and one in the borough of Islington!

The activity is called “Your Future Local Area”, it encourages children to create new, futuristic urban environments and to pay attention to the amazing world around them, discovering hidden treasures in their local heritage and unknown stories in their community. This project triggers a new relationship within our heritage from the past, our contemporary architecture and its local surroundings, encouraging children to care for but also to be critical of the cities we all inhabit. This project allows them to express their ideas and desires for the future of their local area after learning and researching by themselves about the past and the present.160511-EcoleJM-Louise-Vincent030

 

Image: School bus ( cable car) from Bedford Square gardens to the rooftops.

How? We teach that our heritage is part of the urban environment evolution. It is important for us to convey to children that the city is a constantly changing place,and so as citizens of the city, they are able to change it for the better. Children feel empowered to participate in improving the present and build together an inspiring future: “Dynamic heritage” During our lessons children act as teachers, researchers, architects, artists and also politicians working in teams and deciding and expressing through different media what they want for the future of their local area.

 

IMG_3534Active learning: We have developed a timeline-based methodology where we teach about the past, the present and the future of the local area incorporating walks, sketching journeys, buildings´ visits, research time and also providing games, cartoons, movies and books relating to children’s popular culture. We design learning packs ordering images in such a way that children note numerous things which had changed in the built environment and in society. We present several examples of contemporary and utopian buildings and introduce children to the importance of walkable areas, urban ecosystems, extensions, and second opportunities to buildings through rehabilitation. Incorporating the future in our lessons we are developing a pro-active attitude towards children´s community.

This project aims to:

1- Empowering children to become active members of their society.

2- Highlight the relevance of heritage and the local history behind buildings.

3- Getting to know in depth the local area.

4- Fostering long lasting skills such as observation and creative thinking . 4- Encouraging discussions, critical thinking and teamwork 5- Fostering drawing as a communication tool.

5- Creating children´s own legacy for the community.

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Creative, curious and conscious citizens for the future

Little Architect-016-Betty Layward

Little Architect Project in Betty Layward School. Hackney.

To create good architecture there are two necessary ingredients: good architects and good clients. Our mission or responsibility as architects is not just to design or to teach others to be architects, it is also to bring architecture to society and to create an awareness about architecture with the people who use it. This is why, in a similar way to how the AA Public Programme makes architectural education accessible to adults, we ( at the AA Visiting School) have decided to start teaching architecture to children. 

Little Architect, is a move towards an aim of raising committed citizens with knowledge about contemporary architecture and an appreciation for design, which, in turn, will naturally generate more good clients for the future. When the magnificent opportunity of designing a new project comes along for any architect, having an interested, engaged and knowledgable client means that the discussion would be egalitarian and productive. By making architecture accessible to clients to make them interested and informed, the terrain for making architecture will no longer be a battlefield but a place for negotiation, agreement, understanding and especially a place for making dreams a reality. If we could just have a generation of children who were educated in contemporary architecture, it suddenly would be really easy to find support for campaigns such as the one led by the Twentieth Century Society and Richard Rogers to save Robin Hood Gardens from demolition.

Another powerful reason to push for this programme to grow is because even today children´s literacy, toys and many movies are sending them the wrong message regarding the ideal house. For most of our children, in an overpopulated urban environment like London, it will be nearly impossible to afford a “lovely house with a garden and a garage,” which is hardly even a reasonable sustainable model to foster. We have to change their expectations or at least give them other valuable options. It is serious stuff! If we don’t improve the way architecture is being perceived by children today, and if we don’t talk to them positively about vertical architecture, communal areas and communities, shared spaces, etc, we are betraying them by setting them up for a future of disappointment and unfulfilled dreams.

Little architect 015-Kate DaviesThis is why as an architect with my fair share of grey hair already, I decided to start teaching children to admire, enjoy and embrace contemporary architecture, utopian projects, new materials and shapes although always with an eye towards our cities’ heritage. They need to learn about the tangible and the intangible, the built environment and the beautiful net of human relationships and interactions – which are all equally important to creating good design.

Architecture will not develop itself further, if clients tend to fear any deviations from the norm as well as the architects who propose to do so. 

I’ve largely designed buildings during my career, but my expertise lies in urbanism. For this reason I know how important it is to have good politicians to plan the future of our cities. Educating children about architecture is not only about creating good clients, it is also about informing the next generation of decision-makers. Some of our kids today will be the politicians and public servants of tomorrow, and our future cities will need them to have a certain amount of knowledge or at least curiosity for contemporary architecture. We need sensible urbanism and sustainable actions, and the seeds for all of this needs to be sown in schools. Primary and secondary school education is an experience nearly all of us share. Primary Education is the most relevant of all the educational stages since it is the one which shapes our society, whereas subsequent education shapes professionals.

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Childhood is the moment where our bodies and minds are thirsty for novelty, our curiosity is intact and our creativity is immense. This is when we need to learn that architecture is an art with infinite capabilities and that we have to learn to enjoy place – our towns and cities, as much as we love our countryside. Clients, consumers and users should admire the future and the present, not just the past! The past had glorious moments but the future is ours.

The mission of Little Architect is to instil this feeling of ownership and responsibility for our built environment in children from a young age, because we need more creative, curious and conscious citizens for the future. Little Architect is a form of architectural outreach on behalf of the AA, and my humble contribution to a more committed and critical future for London’s built environment and society.

Dolores Victoria Ruiz Garrido-May 2016

Video St Clement Danes Final Assembly.

School closing assembly of a whole school wonderful project! 

St. Clements Danes Primary School, in Drury Lane, opted to have every class year, from year 1 to Year 6 inclusive, participate in Little Architect workshops. As such, we were afforded the unique opportunity to present our work and ourselves to the entire school, in a tailor made assembly presentation. We showed all the varied work, which we would be doing throughout the different years of the school, and also introduced them to some of the main concepts which drives our work with students. While we were able to start the project at St. Clements Danes with a workshop, we were also lucky in that we were able to also conclude it with a school wide assembly.

In this closing assembly, watch the video below! we showed the work produced by the different classes, and even brought some of the classes together to demonstrate their work alongside their younger and older piers. For example, year six was asked to present a series of plays, which they had written to compliment a series of drawings of the future, which they had made, alongside drawings of the past and present, which other years had made. The theatre itself had been made by us, Little Architect, prior to the beginning of the project, and was left with the school as a present to further use. Similarly, the work of year five was brought together in a large collage, which we also presented in the assembly. Again, we felt that this is an important aspect of creative design and thinking, as students to see a very large and, in our opinion very beautiful piece of work, which came from their own work, in a relatively short period of time. We concluded the assembly by asking what students felt they had learned about architecture and the city. The full potential of running such an extensive workshop really became apparent in this final assembly as students asked question and commented about not only their own work, but also the work of other years. It was a terrific experience! Thanks St Clements and specially  CAPCO ( Capital and Counties) for funding all the lessons and the following exhibition at the Building Centre.

An update about our work!

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Little Architect  from Sep 2014- July 2016 

What really matters is your feeback…We are looking forward to teaching in your school!

Thank you for an inspiring workshop that challenged children’s conceptions of conventional building designs and dared children to imagine beyond boundaries of what their futures could look like. The children were empowered to feel that their sustainable designs and ideas mattered” Lily Pang, Year 4 teacher. Rathfern School.Lewisham

The children were very motivated to draw their future local area buildings, and one boy who is usually off task got really stuck in, even bringing in another building he had drawn at home to show me!The children enjoyed looking at the photographs of buildings, as did I. It definitely enhanced our understanding” Sophie Klimt, Year 2 teacher.Christopher Hatton Pr School, Camden.

“During the two sessions the children were able to discuss and comment on photographs promoting a greener and ‘happier’ London. They were motivated by images of existing buildings and space and had the chance to make their own skyline crowns depicting their version of a happy place. It was a great project which had strong curricular links to Geography topics and the children developed a good understanding of how to produce a more eco friendly London. They were incredibly proud of their crowns and shared them with another class also” Katie Stuart, Year 1 Teacher, St Joseph RC Primary school. Westminster,

 

DSC05661Schools &Children: (These figures show what we´ve done and what we have in our agenda until July)

Number of lessons: 78 

Number of children (counting the kids repeating lessons): 2144

Number of primary schools and other different venues: 26

Number of workshops out of London: 4

Number of boroughs in London: 9 (Camden, Islington, Westminster, Hackney, East Ham, Wandsworth, Clapham, Lewisham, Fulham, Surrey (Red Hill))

Followers on Twitter: 3,538

Followers on Facebook: 2,081

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Christopher Hatton Future Local Area- Mount Pleasant- London

Date: 23rd September 2014
School: Christopher Hatton Primary School
Sessions: 1 x 1.5hr – Year 2; 30 Students
LA Tutors: Lola (Dolores Victoria Ruiz Garrido)
Supporting Local Teacher: Sophie Klimt

The children were very motivated to draw their future local area buildings, and one boy who is usually off task got really stuck in, even bringing in another building he had drawn at home to show me! The children enjoyed looking at the photographs of buildings, as did I. It definitely enhanced our understanding.We were very creative during this day and I think this objective was definitely met! Thank you for a lovely session” Sophie Klimt. Year 2. Teacher 


Your Local Area

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Objectives for the children:
Know your local area. Observe its present and imagine the future of it. The main idea is empowering the children to have aspirations to improve and engage with their built environment. Fostering observation. Fostering creative thinking.

How: Drawing and collaging our local area in both the present and the future.

Theoretical section: Children sitting on the carpet.

1-What is a collage?
To explain the concept of collaging we showed a halfway done collage of the present local area to be finished with the children in the classroom. The collage was made with the assistance of the teacher Sophie Klimt in the previous days to the workshop, including, not only pictures of the immediate area, but also pictures of the students in the class itself. This particular addition brings the idea of belonging to a place. Students in KS1 gets very enthusiastic with the idea of themselves being part of the process and the outcome in a very obvious way. The idea is to teach that they are relevant figures to the present of the city.

2-Observation:
A 30 min Keynote presentation was designed to discuss the local area main aspects. We discussed the importance of observation of and participation and within the local area. In the presentation and through pictures took from their local area, we analyzed hidden details in windows and roofs that could have passed unnoticed if we did not pay attention. We offered tools and guided these children to be more observant in a playful way
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In the following part of the presentation we turned to discuss what we would like our future cities to look like. Firstly we played a game naming different types of buildings ie: offices, museums, houses, theatres…We presented several examples of contemporary buildings and introduced students to the importance of clean energy, encouraging the coexistence of other species with humans and buildings (urban ecosystems) we talked about the concept of urban farming, extensions etc. little architect 014
4-Hands on section (individual activity, creative thinking): Each student was given on A4 paper and asked to draw a building that they would like to see in their future local area. It is important to us to encourage students to create fun, creative and colorful designs. We forbid rulers, and encourage students to draw freehand and be playful. During this time, we make sure to take some time with each student, to discuss what they are drawing, and to encourage them to be as creative as they like. We foster the hyphotetical thinking and the abstract thinking encouraging children to think of themselves in the future.

Last section (team work activity): Once the drawings were finished, we then provided the class with two A1 sheets, on which students made a collage of their future local area. While the earlier tasks of drawing were individual and fostered individual creative skills, this last exercise was a group work, and students had to work together, to bring their individual drawings into a coherent and unified group collage – fostering teamwork, discussion and agreement between peers.
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