The RIBA’s Architecture Ambassadors programme pairs volunteers with schools to organise an architectural workshop of their choosing. As part of the programme, Clare and I spent an afternoon at École Jeannine Manuel in London, providing a class of Year 9 children with insight into the built environment.
We started with a warm up exercise in small groups to make the tallest self-supporting structure using 100 straws and masking tape to get the energy levels up. For the main lesson, we asked the children to design a folly in Bedford Square, opposite their school, with a focus on an architectural quality (e.g. light or touch) and restricted to only three materials. The class worked in pairs and the design was represented firstly through a physical model and then scaled drawings. The children could choose to draw a plan, section or elevation using three pen thicknesses. They were then given a minute each to present their ideas to the rest of the class in 'pecha kucha' style.
We were quite surprised at how they got to grips with a design concept almost immediately and enjoyed the process of “thinking through making”. It was a little more challenging to explain the idea of scaled orthogonal drawings, but once they made sense of it, they put pen to paper and didn’t stop. Most were confident and proud when presenting their ideas to the rest of the class and really wanted to take their creations home to show their parents (although they will be kept in school for the end of year show).
By the end of the afternoon, not only did we manage to inspire the children but we were also inspired by them. They came up with great ideas – sometimes stumbled upon through naivety – which, as architects, we may rule out because of our deeper understanding of constraints. Over four hours, we introduced the idea of a brief, site, concept, materiality, model making, design collaboration, orthogonal scaled drawings, pen techniques, time management and presentation skills.
The afternoon was a success with the children not wanting to stop – other than to catch their bus home.