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

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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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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You are not alone!

IMG_0336This post is really short, I just wanted to share a funny moment with you all. L

At the closing of a recent Little Architect session( June 2015), I said to the class: “Remember, you are in charge of the future. It is YOU, who can improve our cites”. Immediately after I said this, one girl covered, her face with her hands let out a huge sigh and said “Oh No!” Clearly, she was absolutely overwhelmed with the responsibility. This is precisely, what we want to set straight, whatever the future holds, as long as we are responsible citizens, we will manage it together! I told her, and the rest of the class Don’t worry, you are not alone, the whole class, myself and lots of other children will work together with you.”

St.Clements Danes School, Covent Garden. London. Year 5 lesson.

Tutors: Sylvie Taher & Dolores Victoria Ruiz

 

UGLY? INACCURATE? ORDINARY?

Little ArctF uture 01020_croppedToo often, when we talk to friends about drawing skills, our insecurities are revealed: “I don´t know how to draw”, “My drawings are rubbish”, “I am not good at art”.

What drives us to think so badly of our ability to draw? I am pretty sure that it starts at the beginning of our learning process. The way in which we were guided towards a “more beautiful and correct” way of representation, has led many of us thinking, too early, that we can´t draw.

Drawing is a communication tool, so it is time we start paying attention to this matter.

Parents, teachers and educators in general, face children´s drawings nearly each day. We tend to correct or to give advice to our children rather than to observe and recognize individual style. It is vital that we avoid judgment and negative evaluation, especially during the early years, and rather push our children to explore. Children should be encouraged to express whatever reality they see and understand, and to do that through whatever medium they can express themselves best.

As adults, we have a tendency to approach children´s drawings through established rules that we were taught as children. We tend to follow the traditional canons of beauty.

Picasso used to say that we are wrong in our understanding of beauty: “Academic training in beauty is a sham. We have been deceived, but so well deceived that we can scarcely get back even a shadow of the truth…Art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon”

 

So, who is right, who is wrong? How can we understand the artistic side of a child when we analyze with such predispositions?

DSCN1177We must forget as soon as possible the drawing teacher inside us and let the creativity flows!

Often we unconsciously make suggestions about the drawings that our children produce; the colors, the lack of proportions; the unrealistic details. Further to this, our commentaries can relate directly to the subjective beauty of the thing; “this drawing is ugly” or “this drawing is not so beautiful as yesterday´s one”. Such sentences are enormously dangerous for the creative development of a child.

Where we see ourselves improving our students and children skills, we are actually generating the harmful idea of failure.

As Sir Peter Cook says I´m more interested in ideas and originality than I´m interested in something that is beautiful”.

Let´s allow children to freely explore and enjoy while drawing!

littlearchitect-web1Dolores Victoria Ruiz Garrido. June. 2014. London

1 Christian Zervos. “Picasso Speaks: A Statement by the artist” 1935, p 273.

2 Architecture and Beauty. Yael Reisner, p72

Look at that, it is so beautiful!

Do we spend time looking at the city? Do we spend time observing the landscape in front of us? What about our children? Do they? I don´t think so.

The Italian Psychologist, Miretta Prezza´s, some years ago penned an article named “Children´s independent mobility” and wrote:

For Italian children, the city is mostly a scene that they observe from the car window, from the windows of their home or from clinging to the hand of an adult who forces them to walk at his\ her pace

Such a statement rings true for most of our European children; it is not just an Italian issue!

Through a mixture of parental over-protection as well as failures of modern urban design, children are no longer able to explore their surroundings independently. The consequence of this lack of autonomy is that they are no longer able to enjoy the city as they should. They are not in touch with the urban environment. Thus forth, our children are foreigners in their own towns and cities.

My concern as architect goes beyond this. Our children do not walk around and play outdoors independently, they are not encouraged to observe their surrounds and yet further to this there is a fundamental lack of appreciation for their city.

IMG_1055Prezza´s statement, written in 2007, could be written today, in 2014, as:

For children living in industrialized countries, the city is mostly a scene that they figure out from the corner of their eyes while playing with their parent´s mobile in the car, bus or restaurant

With a multitude of distractions and stimulus, children today find it far more difficult to engage with their urban environment. Without education and instruction, it is clearly more difficult to find appreciation of the rich and enlivening environment that surrounds us: shop windows; kiosks full of colorful magazines; fruit in the market; old and dirty facades; chimneys poking from roofs; flowers hanging from pub entrances; the doors; the balconies; the bricks; people jogging; people walking; people lying in the park…all go unseen.

The city is crowded and full of surprises. As parents and teachers, we have a duty to explain, underline and point out the beauty of our daily life. We need to teach our children that the urban landscape we occupy is unique and precious. We need to draw attention to the things that happen everyday and every second in front of their tiny noses.

Dolores Victoria Ruiz Garrido.”Little Architect” Director.Architectural Association.London

April 2014

What is Little Architect? Why we teach architecture in Primary Schools?

During first decade of the 21th century, the way we design our cities is changing. The participatory model, the community voice and a fluid dialogue between citizens and politicians is being demanded or, even better, accepted. With a certain, slow pace and a big dose of personal optimism I could assert that future urban processes will be developed within a much deeper implicated social base. Today, it is more necessary than ever that we are educated from a young age in architecture and sustainability.

30.06.15 St Clement Dane School, Drury Lane, London. Little Architects.Architecture is dynamic and comprises multiple social impacts in its development. Architecture is constantly interacting with us; it evolves and gets transformed. It is always there, out in the street and giving us shelter, communicating our past and expressing hopes for new futures. That future is what we – Little Architect´s educators – want to explore with the children, to equip them with tools to understand, enjoy and consciously interact with their built environment. To create a sustainable future we need to invest time and new educational processes in Primary Schools because, as Buckminster Fuller wrote, “children are enthusiastic planetarium audiences”[1]

Torriano School 3-2Little Architect is born as an education and research platform part of the Visiting School based at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. We teach Architecture and Sustainability in London Primary Schools to promote creativity, positive thinking[2] and a better understanding of our shared urban ecosystem. We research and develop architectural teaching resources especially designed for very young children in KS1 and lower KS2.

DSC01518We promote observation and drawing of the built environment to foster awareness for the daily landscapes and hidden treasures that cities offer. We use creativity as a tool to empower children to be more actively critical and propositional citizens.

We believe that architectural teaching in the national curriculum since the early ages is extremely necessary; it would expand children enormous and innate creative potential [3]. They will learn not to fear new shapes and colours, new materials, and least of all new inventions in technology and energy. It would make them more open to architecture evolution and also more critical and propositional about their living environment. In some years we could build a more questioning society and this, ultimately, I think is good. The most effective change should start from the root, and at the AA we have started already!

Little architect-Presentation-Future 9

One of our main goals is to teach children that cities are remarkable environments where we, as humans, should do our best to realize our own happiness and well-being without compromising either the Earth’s resources or the existence of other urban species.

We aim to teach life-long skills that will enable children to discover the amazing amount of beauty that surrounds them on a daily basis.

Dolores Victoria Ruiz Garrido. “Little Architect” Director. Architectural Association.

April.2014.London


 

[1] Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. R. Buckminster Fuller. 1969

[2] Positive education: Positive Psychology and classroom interventions. Martin Seligman. Oxford Review of Education Vol. 35, No. 3, June 2009

[3] Why Creativity Now? A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson. September 2009 | Volume 67 | Number 1 Teaching for the 21st Century Pages 22-26