Designing with Children


Follow-up discussion at Bristol event, Tuesday 13 January 2015


On Tuesday 13 January 2015 we were delighted to meet in Bristol Architecture Centre architects who participated in our research in what has been the first out of two dissemination events with a particular focus on findings from our case studies. Marianthi Liapi and Kostis Oungrinis (Transformable Intelligent Environments Laboratory, Technical University of Crete), and Barbara Kaucky (erectarchitecture) discussed their approaches to engaging children in design processes, within school and other contexts, and provided inspirational examples from their own practices.

On our part, we presented the case studies within our research project and the diverse methods used in these research contexts, ranging from field diaries to interviews and document analysis. Use of visual methods enabled us to capture designer-child communication and reflections on the co-creative process. What followed was a discussion of key insights emerging from the exploration of the dynamics and processes of co-creative design between children and architects in these four sites. The concepts of creative dialogue and togetherness were the umbrella themes enabling a more elaborate and process-focused exploration of designer-child interactions, involving, for example, turn taking and embodied dialogue. Though different in their ways of doing design and contributions into the creative process, designers’ and children’s cultures were seen to meet through respect and a sense of responsibility for one another.

Please follow the links to watch individual talks:

Dr Rosie Parnell: Introduction to the project

Dr Jo Birch: Case studies overview and research methods

Barbara Kaucky, erect architecture: Engaging children in architecture

Dr Kostis Oungrinis and Marianthi Liapi, TU Crete: Educational Pla(y)ces

Dr Maria Patsarika: Early Research Findings

All speakers: Plenary discussion and questions

We warmly thank Jodie Marks and Amy Harrison at the Bristol Architecture Centre for hosting the event and all our 32 participants – designers, teachers, play-workers – who defied the elements in this cold evening to join us! Your reflections, questions and interest to further your good practice shone through this event. And, of course, thank you Barbara, Marianthi and Kostis for coming over and sharing your experiences of engaging children in your work.

Next to come on Wednesday 21 January 2015 10:00 – 16:00, Sheffield, ICOSS building is the second part of our findings dissemination events. Susanne Hofmann (die Baupiloten) and Dan Morrish and Emily Charkin (Building for Families, Wilderness Wood) will discuss their approaches to engaging children in the design process and demonstrate methods and ideas that they use in workshop sessions.

This is a free event with required booking through

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We have only recently returned from our second research visit at Wilderness Wood, East Sussex (see, 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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Model feedback station


Modules station


Children's shoe-box story

Having only recently returned from our first case study visit to Köln, we are still buzzing with excitement! We observed and recorded the second and last design workshop run by two die Baupiloten architects, each of whom worked at a different ‘station’, or design activity context, with six children aged 4-9 in groups of two.

The architects had already captured children’s key ideas for the restaurant at the first workshop, which translated into two big design themes: entrance and mirrors. At the first station, the children took part in a feedback session. They were presented a model of the restaurant whose design was based on the shoe-box stories that they had created at the first workshop. This was an opportunity for the children to link what they saw back to their initial ideas and explore ways in which they can use the restaurant spaces. The second station ('modules station') was a hands-on activity, where they experimented with fabrics, mirrors, components and light to end up with an imaginative structure reflecting their own ‘dreamworlds’, as one of the architects commented.

As it happens with real life research, however, it was us, researchers, who took photographs and video-recorded the above activities. We saw the architects and the children concentrating together, telling stories, having a laugh, moving around, and playing with paper figurines, which they placed on the restaurant model and structure, often defying the gravity law. Whilst the two of us took on a paparazzi role photographing all movement and action taking place, our third researcher interviewed each one of the children in a camping tent (couldn’t be more adventurous), where they enacted designer-child interactions with toy figures and commented on the photos that we took.

What’s next? We’ll keep you posted.. For now, a warm thanks to die Baupiloten architects and the participating children for allowing us a glimpse into their design worlds, children’s teachers and carers, as well as Le Buffet personnel at Karstadt for their hospitality.

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Courtesy: Rupert Ganzer

We are off to start the first of our case studies this week. We begin in Köln, Germany, this Thursday, where we'll be looking at a project set up by die Baupiloten Architects. The design workshops are part of a series run with 4-7 year olds who are involved in desiging a children's cafe area for Karstadt department store. The final design will be built in the Köln store late summer 2014.

Design sessions are being held in the existing Karstadt cafe, during opening hours. (Coffee cups will be clinking in the background no doubt, giving the research and design a very 'live' feel). After we've obtained written consent from all participants, we'll be conducting informal interviews with both designers and children and recording the design session with video cameras.

Children will be asked to photograph key moments - hopefully depicting something that is going very well or perhaps badly in their design process and the photographs will be used as the main stimulus for short recorded interviews. As well as photo elicitation, researchers will have activities available for children to visually depict what kinds of communication happen between themselves and between them and the designers. Children may choose to draw this or act this out with small toy figures resprsenting themselves and the designer. There will also be emotion stickers, pens and paper available for the creation of a simple cartoon strip or story board to show individual's experience of the cafe design process.

The key designers working on the project will be asked to keep informal design journals, reflecting on some of their thoughts and experiences of working with children and what it is that children are bringing to the design process.

We'll post again soon to present a flavour of some of the inital findings.

Bis später

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