Designing with Children


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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Intersubjectivities; possibilities of being; co-creative encounters; transformation.

These are a few of the emerging themes out of our research so far that we will be discussing soon in the following conferences:

Arkki Conference Finland May 8-10 2014 Here we are launching our database showing approximately 40 projects, in which designers worked with children. This is just a window into some of our findings from our first year's work, which involved interviewing 16 spatial designers.

We concentrate on the theme 'possibilities of being': What do spatial designers learn from the creative dialogue with children and what impact does this have in the design process itself? In exploring these questions we aim to build an understanding of co-creative design processes involving children and spatial designers; and provide an evidence-base to support co-creative transformational participatory practice.

CSCY Conference Sheffield July 1-3 2014 Our insipration in this case has been the expert-novice relationship, which is regularly played-out and re-worked in variations of the teacher-learner interaction throughout children's lives. Through use of literary and cinematic representations of relationships between adults and children, we come to subvert well-recognised interactions between children and adults. Review of literature on play, creativity, design, education and child development, coupled with our own interviews with spatial designers, has prompted re-interpretation of the child-adult dyad and, specifically, exploration of reciprocity, negotiation and imrpovisation as part of their interactions. We argue that possibilities for greater creative partnership, intersubjectivity, co-learning and transformation for both adults and children, echoed in our own empiricl research, largely draw on the everyday nature of child-adult interactions.

– Finally, Child in the City Conference Odense 29 Sept – 1 Oct 2014 With our paper we ask: in what ways can the creative collaboration between children and spatial designers bridge their worlds and offer opportunities for co-authoring their identities? Design professionalism has been often described as normalising creativity, partly due to its key principle of expert knowledge, which distinguishes 'insiders' from 'lay outsiders'. Specifically in designer-child collaborations, designers' institutional concerns typically draw attention away from the creative process and the valuable impact that such creative partnerships may have on design practice. Our interviews with 16 design practitioners show that their 'creative detours' with children, coupled with children's capacity to re-invent their environments imaginatively, can offer a more inclusive and empowering perspective for both practitioners and children, one where expertise is subverted and new roles come to transform the child-designer identities.

Are you interested in the above debates? We welcome you to contribute with your comments!

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