Designing with Children

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We have recently returned from the Arkki Conference in Helsinki: Creating the Future 2.0. Arkki, the School of Architecture for Children and Youth in Finland, this year celebrates its 20th birthday. Pihla Meskanen, Arkki Director, and her wonderful team organised a terrific architecture education conference as part of the celebrations. A concurrent strand to the anniversary event was a beautiful exhibition of Arkki students' work, displayed at a great venue: Laituri - the Helsinki City Planning Department's information and exhibition space in the old bus station building.

The conference itself was truly international with presenters from across Europe, Asia and South America and the setting for presentations, the Alexander Theatre, was an architectural delight. Whilst most of the conference focussed upon the sharing of methods, theories and developments in architecture education, we were able to present a somewhat different perspective, moving from what is on offer for children to talk about about the architects' perspective and experience when they work with children and young people. Arkki's Facebook pages reveal more.

Conference participants did not only share their programmes of work. We were treated to a great list of workshops on offer. (I joined an excellent session which tackles ideas of drawing, scale, local place, construction and the natural world in András Cseh's How Big is a Tree? workshop, held in stunningly equipped Arkki Classrooms,set in an old cable factory). The conference trip to the modest and elegant Aalto House, home and workplace of Alvar Aalto gave delegates an inspirational send off.

The Arkki Conference revealed how seriously both architecture and children are (separately and together) considered at decision making levels. There is both a national architectural policy and a national children's culture policy, both of which are taken very serioulsy in Finland. To have the invovlement and endorsement of both Helsinki's Mayoral offices and a national policitian at the conference, was quite an eye opener for us British types.

It was a perfect place to begin to pass on the word about the database and to drum up interest in the project more widely, adding a number of folk to our network.

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