What comes to your mind when you think about education for kids? Are you still thinking of chalkboards and Bunsen burners? Whatever is in your head, I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with an architect’s design studio, but that’s all about to change. It’s time to discover what happens when design meets education, as we make the case for why you should consider architecture for kids.
Architecture for Kids
Introducing architecture to young kids is unconventional to say the least. After all, until very recently, education has largely been dominated by traditional textbook learning. But times are changing. The merits of experiential learning are making their way to the fore, paving the way for an alternative education curriculum.
Enter Hong Kong-based OWN Academy and their four day ‘Rethinking Urban Space’ summer program led by Senior Program Designer, Alfie Chung. With the help of architects Jorge Beneitez and Eugenio Fontan from design studio Enzyme, the program immersed young kids in a real world urban regeneration project: the rejuvenation of Hillier Street in the heart of Sheung Wan.
Forget books and equations, here the kids were challenged to undertake on-site research, interview the public and master BIM technology (software that even the seasoned professionals still struggle with). Pretty impressive for a bunch of eight-to-ten-year-olds.
But Why Architecture?
Even if your kid doesn’t harbor dreams of becoming the next Frank Lloyd Wright or Zaha Hadid, as a multi-faceted discipline, architecture has much to offer. As researcher Peter Hawley highlights in the introductory passages of Design as a Catalyst for Learning, design “motivates young people”. Design teaches them how to be both “reflective, self-directed learners and collaborative team members.” In short, architecture programs for kids go far beyond creativity.
Skills-wise, architecture programs for kids can help develop teamwork, communication and observation skills, to name but a few. However, it’s in the arena of critical thinking where architecture activities for kids truly excel. Take this program for example, which, encouraged the kids to “create solutions for problems ranging from aesthetics to accessibility, sustainability, to how to build communities and much more,” explains Chung. At the end of the day, architecture is all about identifying a design issue and exploring ways to improve and fix it, making architecture and education a natural fit.
“Overall, they had to practice balancing creativity with practicality through analytical thinking.” – Alfie Chung
Jorge Beneitez remarks how architecture programs for kids can “help in the development of critical thinking, prompting kids to question why things are designed in this way and if it’s any good.”
Alongside valuable skills, architecture activities for kids teaches the equally important art of open-mindedness. “Opening themselves to new perspectives, I think that’s what they learned. I think that’s what we professionals learn in architecture too,” points out Beneitez.
“[Within architecture] you really need to come out of yourself and look at a problem from different angles – economic, social and design-wise for example.” – Jorge Beneitez
Case in point, when presenting her project, participating student Zahra shared how the program has taught her to ‘think about everybody — people with disabilities, pets — just everybody in general’.
“Architecture opens your mind to thinking about how everything affects each other,” surmises Eugenio Fontan. “Adults tend only to think about problems individually, but architecture requires you to consider a wider angle. If this can be taught to kids, I think that is something very positive.”
A Sense of Empowerment
Are you looking to help your kid become a passionate, pro-active member of the community? Well, architecture can help with that.
“I’ve found that practicing architecture with young people creates a strong sense of empowerment,” reveals Chung. “We are constantly exposed to and warned about community problems – overpopulation, pollution, conflict. Architecture is a great way to show young people that they have the ability to change the current environment and build a future that they (and others) would be happy to live in.”
“They feel like they can now push everything. Because now they have experienced being in this role of designer, they realize it is within their power to make things happen.” – Eugenio Fontan
“I saw them very empowered,” concludes Beneitez. “Now they feel empowered to give their opinions on different areas now and propose and explore and ask. I think it gave them a lot.”