Designing with Children

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Busy times with our heads deep in data. We've been preparing papers and getting going with two forthcoming books for publication with Routledge (more on these shortly).

More particularly, we are about to have our final dissemination event to be held at 6.30 pm on 1st December 2015. Spatial design practitioners, students, those interested in wider areas of children's involvement in spatial design are all welcome to attend. Tickets are free but must be booked via eventbrite.

We will be at The Gallery, 75 Cowcross Street London for this early evening event and drinks reception. We are delighted that a number of architects and practitioners involved in our early interviews are attending and we also welcome the four architects from our case studies for discussion:

Susanne Hofmann, die Baupiloten
Barbary Kaucky, erectarchitecture
Marianthi Liapi, Transformable Intelligent Environments Laboratory, Technical University of Crete
Dan Morrish, Wilderness Wood

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This week we were excited to host Susanne Hofmann (die Baupiloten), Dan Morrish and Emily Charkin (Building for Families, Wilderness Wood) at our second event for dissemination of research findings. We spent this cold Winter's morning discussing their approaches to engaging children in design process, and after lunch our brave snow-defying audience got to try out the methods that Susanne, Dan and Emily use in their workshops with children. These hands-on sessions included exploring preferences for spatial atmospheres by creating dreamworld collages, and constructing a snow sledge from cardboard tubes.

For those who have missed the event, you are welcome to watch the talks and discussions at the following links:

- Rosie Parnell and Jo Birch: Introduction to the research project

- Susanne Hofmann: Atmosphere as participatory design strategy

- Emily Charkin and Dan Morrish: Involving all ages in the process of making a building

- Jo Birch: Early research findings

This full day seminar was organised in association with SSoA Children's Architecture Unit and the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, welcoming a wide array of audience from several universities, architectural design practices and Sheffield City Council.

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We have only recently returned from our second research visit at Wilderness Wood, East Sussex (see http://www.wildernesswood.org/about/), which left us with tons of exciting data to look at! There, we spent a day observing the Wilderness Wood team designing and building a new play kitchen for toddlers. The design team comprised eleven children aged 5-12, their parents, two building facilitators and Dan, the architect. A parallel event run alongside the design and build activity, which involved Lucy and younger children aged 2-5 decorating the kitchen and preparing recipes.

The morning of 30th May found the Wilderness Wood team identifying a structure for the play kitchen over two chalk boards with lots of drawing, improvising and ideas-sharing taking place. For the half hour that was designated to the design stage we were able to capture much excitement and brainstorming through video recordings, photographs and field notes. (It was only two of us this time; we just wished we had more hands and eyes). Constraints were discussed, solutions were found – with the children offering some great input into all these – and before we realised it was already time to get on with the building part.

For the rest of the day, we witnessed industrious building work across the site. The children were instructed how to use the tools and were then involved in every aspect of the work: strip wood off the bark, cut, measure and saw poles or, where there was no space for everyone, eagerly gather around and watch those involved. There was an atmosphere of inquiry and hands-on creativity in gaining a working knowledge of materials and tools, which the children seemed to enjoy, as adults' clear confidence in the children's abilities, which children appreciated and commented on during our interviews with them. We were able to run interviews after lunch and during the afternoon session, inside the nearby tepee, which lent our discussions a playful air.

This was a serious job to be done. And you can see the outputs with your own eyes. A big thanks to Emily, Dan and all of you who allowed us to experience Wilderness Wood!

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