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Architecture in Schools - Imagining the Shared City

Petra Marko

This summer I had the pleasure of joining a group of judges for the Open City's Architecture in Schools initiative. This creative learning programme for primary school pupils aims to inspire the next generation of city-shapers, building an understanding how architecture informs the world around us.

I was particularly pleased to be involved this year as the theme was Shared City – opening up the debate beyond architecture of buildings to all the places and spaces between them where we meet and play every day. Each school class was linked to an architecture practice who guided their exploration and took them on trips to visit interesting buildings and places. The outings were followed by workshops in classrooms where architecture became a tool for exploration of subjects from maths all the way to art, science and literacy. The results were a series of models and storybooks documenting the processes and methodologies each class used to define their vision of a shared city.

We sat down at Open City’s offices on a hot afternoon in June to judge the final entries. It soon became clear this will not be a usual architecture competition judging scenario. Each class’ submission was a reflection of the character and personality of the children behind, and with help of their teachers and architects came in many shapes, sizes and on many pages. They did not follow a structured prescribed format but were rather like bursts of narratives capturing key moments in their thinking and making process leading to results that equally came in all shapes, colours and forms.

As a group of judges, we immersed ourselves into this storytelling journey, looking for clues and signs. Sometimes they were hidden, while other times they were very clear (such as ‘this project should win because it is the best project’, or a music building in the shape of a guitar). At the end of the afternoon, we felt like we really got to know each class.

It was therefore a great pleasure to meet the children at the awards ceremony. Sponsored by and delivered in partnership with the Canary Wharf Group, the ceremony took place at Canary Wharf’s East Wintergarden. This celebratory setting was transformed into a burst of colour, chatter and joy as children, parents and teachers flooded in to take seats before the announcements of winners began.

The enthusiasm and enjoyment of the project was self-evident as each school class proudly came up to the podium to receive their award. Children took turns to share their thoughts and thanks with the audience: two, three, four, sometimes five pupils from each class would say their mini speeches. Their directness and spontaneity could easily humble any public speaker, making beautifully the point that sharing the city really is about caring for the city and its people, not just a buzz word to maximise investment potential.

You can find out more about Arhitecture in Schools and 2018 winners here.