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Architecture + Children: the world can be changed

The project was created in Colombia in 2011 from the need to teach children that architecture is about more than making attractive buildings.

 

Miriam Valero

 

The main purpose of this educational initiative is to teach children and young people about the transformative power that each of us has inside us, which can be expressed through architecture in particular. To make them see that through creativity they can improve their environment and make it evolve.

For this reason one of the main places in which “Arquitectura + Niñ@s” plans to run workshops is in the underprivileged areas of the Colombian capital Bogotá, to teach the young ones to look at their neighbourhoods with new eyes and to motivate them to use architecture as the means to improve them.

More than 300 children have already taken part in these workshops, in which a group of Colombian architects from the National University of Colombia, teaches them through play, how to design for example, a group of community houses that enhance and fit in with the city.

Or by touring the city, they explain the features of its buildings and the importance of the urban environment.

The project is run by the architects Ricardo Daza, Eliana Nuñez, Lucas Rincón and Fabiola Uribe, one of the originators of this initiative who explained its unique features to The Prisma, from Bogotá.

How did Architecture + Nin@s begin?

It came about from a coinciding of interests, between Sandra Bustos, a plastic artist and myself, and we are interested in teaching architecture and art to children in the  6 to 14 age group.

We suggested the idea to Ricardo Daza, the curator of the Leopold Rother Architecture Museum at the National University, who was developing similar schemes. The result was the creation of a pilot workshop, two years ago, in which 15 children took part. From that point other people joined us and the project took off.

What activities do you put on in the workshops?

We familiarize the children with space, colour, building materials and the forms that surround them as a means to discover architecture. So we have different activities, including for example trips around the university campus.

Or we show them how some classic buildings were inspired by the pure Platonic Forms that are found in nature, and how humans take those templates and recreate them in new ways so that architecture becomes possible as a discipline. Then we ask them to imagine the layout of an amusement park in the way they would like it, and they have to build a model of it. Or we read them a story and they have to paint the scene as they imagine it.

Also, starting from exhibitions in the museum, we run practical workshops, so that the children understand and identify with them through play.

What do the children think about architecture before and after the workshops?

It depends on where they come from. If they come from working class areas, architecture for them is just construction. They don’t think that it involves creativity, because that is what they see around them.

And if they come from other areas, they have an idea that architecture is something aesthetic. When we come to the end of a workshop we feel very pleased because a small seed has been planted. The children begin to be interested in looking at buildings, or they see them with different eyes than they did before.

You are concentrating your work with children from underprivileged areas.

Yes, we see that with this project we can reach children from different communities. When a child is introduced to architecture they learn the possibility of changing their world: that through creativity they can change things.

The children who most need to learn this are those from areas of urban decay. I believe that architecture generates the confidence that it is possible to change our world.

We try to tell children that creativity doesn’t depend on money or resources, but on their ability to change their world.

Why is it important to teach children about architecture?

Architecture is produced from culture, and brings together many different kinds of knowledge, including history, aesthetics, technological progress, urban studies – it is a multi-faceted discipline. Because of this, when a child begins to understand it, they begin to see different possibilities of understanding their world, and the different cultural and social values that are represented there.

How could society benefit if we teach children about architecture and what it means?

In a country like Colombia, where there is a lot of skepticism, children who learn about architecture, or any other art, begin to value more what they have.

The child really begins to realise that there is knowledge, a tradition exists, there are values behind things. And that sensibility and that first contact, allows them to have an outlook that is more positive, more hopeful.

There are countries, especially in Europe, where architecture is part of childrens’ education, but here in Colombia it is quite unusual. Or it is viewed only from a technical perspective. Although there are some pioneering initiatives like the School of Architecture and Design for children (ADN).

Is the appreciation of architecture sufficiently widespread in society?

In Colombia, I think architecture is viewed in different ways. One is that of the big companies, where it is seen as an exclusive knowledge, associated with social status and power, which is found in important decision-making centres.

In another view, architecture is thought of as a discipline required only for the ‘specificity’ of its techniques, but it isn’t credited with transformative features beyond the purely spatial.

And another large group, the majority I would say, considers, sadly, that they can do without architecture.

We as architects are also at fault for that, because we have stayed detached from the real needs of society, putting profit above quality, and forgetting that architecture must be both an art and a technology that serves absolutely everyone. And in the most decayed areas its application becomes more valuable and necessary.


(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email: ondastropicais@yahoo.co.uk)

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