Designing with Children

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We have been fortunate enough to find another case study (long search) Barbara Kaucky and Sarah Clayton of erectarchitecture are working with school council children and head teacher Oliver Woodward at Columbia Primary School Tower Hamlets, London to make alterations to an existing playground around the edge of the school's city site.

Last week, two of us observed a busy morning workshop involving the architects and thirteen enthusiastic 6 to 10 year olds. The theme of 'nature is taking over the playground' was brought in by Barbara to stimulate the children and elicit new ideas; she and Sarah encouraged them to develop concepts, draw, write and model ideas with home (studio) made play-dough and armfuls of natural materials. Twigs, leaves, wooden sticks, conkers, string, nets and herbs were new and exciting construction materials for many children, but the organic feel to this project sits well with much of erectarchitecture's work and aesthetic (see award winning Timber Lodge and Tumbling Bay Playground in Olympic Park and Kilburn Grange Park Adventure Playcentre).

The children at Columbia are clearly at home with creative activity; they work in a well stocked and decorated art room while the rest of the school corridors and halls we see celebrate artistic endeavour and creative practice of professionals and new talent alike. After listening to an introductory talk and picture show from Barbara, the children settled into discussion, drawing and modelling. The pre-prepared model boards from the studio clearly outlined to the children the scaled space in which new playground equipment and landscaping could be created; it was up to the children to 'act as architects' to go ahead and think up some ideas.

Children drew their ideas from personal experience, other playgrounds, toys, museum trips as well as the inspirational images Barbara had shown earlier. The models created showed the reciprocity between the creative inspiration: sometimes emanating from the architects, sometimes from the children. The 'active play' focus drawn up together by teachers and architects was, in the end, augmented by the children's introduction of resting and hiding places - benches, seats, swings, caves, nests and dens were highly visible in the children's designs.

Thank you so much to all the children, staff and designers who allowed us in to see this fascinating process. We're excited to see what happens next.

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