Why teach children architecture?
Over the last few years there has been a noteworthy increase in the number of architects who occasionally or even continuously decide to devote part of their work to running architecture workshops for children. The purpose is both educational (to develop critical thinking about the built surroundings and familiarise them with cultural and urban heritage, to foster spatial intelligence and creativity, and so forth), and information-related, i.e. gathering information on children’s needs in the framework of more complex projects that are normally social or participatory.
While a first reading could lead us to believe that such initiatives arise as an alternative given the crisis experienced in the profession of architecture, their scant profitability coupled with their rapid proliferation in several countries advises a closer reading.
In part, it owes to the initiatives of a great number of architects aiming to avoid repeating erroneous models of the past and, through teaching, narrow the gap that widened between the profession and society. While educating about the natural surroundings is now taken for granted, a single statistic speaks for itself about the need to educate about built surroundings. By the year 2050 seven out of every ten people will live in cities.
These objectives were bolstered by three factors: architects’ new social role, the advent of citizens’ participation, and the quest for alternative teaching models. It was the participatory processes themselves that proved the need for all citizens to have minimal spatial skills.
Educating about architecture has already been successfully tackled in other countries, a great deal of it through formal education. Javier Encinas1 explains very interesting initiatives developed in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Portugal. Meanwhile, Finland ends up being the country that has the broadest experience in architecture education within the national curriculum. Teaching the subject in schools is complemented by schools specifically devoted to educating on architecture for children and youth, such as Arkki (in Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa) and Lastu (Pohjois-Savo) where teachers, students and families all learn together.
Also, authors such as Juan Bordés and Xavier Monteys remind us of all children’s drive to build as they learn. During childhood, building comes as naturally as drawing. In fact, the educational properties of building blocks were proven over a century ago, and they are still valid for that purpose and used as school material. More recently, authors such as Howard Gardner identified “visual and spatial intelligence” as one of the seven types of intelligence defining individuals.
Education in architecture is therefore a junction where natural education, social needs and long term goals to manage and demand better social environments all coalesce. Why do we teach children architecture? There are more than enough reasons.2