A new podcast series explores the growing consensus around the need to engage young people in the built environment, writes Antonio Capelao

© Antonio Capelao cropped

Antonio Capelao

Last year I set up Architecture for Kids, a community interest company (CIC), to inspire and promote creativity and self-confidence in children and young people by engaging them in discussions about architecture, design, and sustainability. It is a hands-on problem solving and spatial programme, explored by sharing with children and young people knowledge about the built environment and the architect’s skills, through a process of conversation, site visits, drawing, and making – but always with the young person in charge of their own thinking and decision making.

Architecture for Kids CIC, alongside the Built Environment Trust, the Thornton Education Trust, and the Welsh School of Architecture Cardiff University, has also produced and launched the Architecture for Kids podcast series, to bring together practitioners and creatives working with children and young people to inspire them to make the built environment more inclusive, diverse, and better suited for their needs and interests.

CEOs surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that as they anticipate an increasingly automated workplace, the human skills that they will most prize are ‘problem solving, adaptability, collaboration, leadership, creativity, and innovation’.

We are aware that our beliefs and opinions stem from our childhood, and are influenced by the developmental context in which we are brought up, and reinforced by peer groups and cultural influences – ultimately, influencing how we think of ourselves and the world around us. Therefore, if we want to change attitudes towards architecture and the built environment, and foster creativity and problem solving, we must focus on our children.

>> Architecture for Kids Podcast

Victoria Thornton, chair of the Thornton Education Trust, has played a leading role in helping to engage more young people with the built environment. As she has noted: “Architecture affects everyone, yet it is the one subject that is not embedded into children’s lives. Young people’s voices are often excluded from discussions and decisions on urban design whilst creative and design subjects are excluded from the school curriculum.

“If we are to create a significant step change, the architectural professions need to provide many more opportunities in which young people and children have a voice about their future environment. We believe small actions create major impact.”

Sculpture in the City 2022 Workshop  © Luke O'Donovan (mid res) (26 of 66)

Source: Urban Learners © Luke O’Donovan

Sculpture in the City 2022 Workshop

Inspired by this and, by focusing on practitioners’ and creatives’ practical experiences in ‘pedagogy in practice’, the podcast brings some light to the interplay between the fields of the built environment, architecture, creative industries in general and education. This interplay is understood as shared knowledge between the practitioner/creative and the school teacher.

The podcast series also seeks to highlight the way in which children and young people can become ‘active’ researchers, designers and makers through codesign, coproduction, and cocreation. In each episode of  Architecture for Kids, I engage in a conversation with practitioners and creatives who are working with children and young people to facilitate their participation in the shaping of the built environment and the creative industries.

“The natural and built environment offers an incredible learning environment to young people. By immersing themselves in their neighbourhood, they can understand complex challenges, articulate creative responses and build capabilities to actively engage in shaping their environments. The Architecture for Kids podcast series champions this idea, which is also at the core of the engagement strategy at the Welsh School of Architecture.

“The podcast series will be a valuable resource for academics, school teachers, parents, local authorities and community groups in the context of the new Curriculum for Wales. Most importantly, I hope this podcast series will enthuse young people to study architecture and design-related subjects and craft their careers in the creative industries.”

Dr Hiral Patel, director of engagement, Welsh School of Architecture Cardiff University

The Architecture for Kids podcast also looks at the need for bringing practitioners with the required creative skills, knowledge and perspectives into the arts programme of the national school curriculums, through foundational policy change. Putting politics aside, this approach is very much aligned with Keir Starmer’s ambitions for education, outlined in his recent “five missions” speech in Manchester.

The speech highlighted the need to reform the UK’s school curriculum to help pupils and students break down five big barriers to educational attainment; language; confidence; an outdated curriculum; a culture of rejecting vocational training; and a “soft bigotry” of low expectations. A key element of this is the growing focus on vocational skills and creativity, in a bid to manage the on-trend challenge of artificial intelligence and the potential threat it presents to many traditional forms of employment.

I share the same aspiration as many other practitioners and creatives in this emerging sector, which is ‘to open-up the built environment to children and young people for them to become genuine participants’. We want to see teachers empowered, so they can take ‘greater control over what is taught in school’, innovating in how they can teach and developing ‘new approaches to learning’ that inspire children and young people to ‘deeper learning’.

“Working at the Built Environment Trust combines two things I’m really passionate about: the built environment and people. The Trust’s Learning programme focuses on reaching new audiences outside the built environment and to connect, inspire and empower people to appreciate and direct the impact their surroundings have on their daily lives.

“To have played an active role in making this podcast happen has been both interesting and rewarding. There is so much talent and an array of amazing projects out there.”

Sandra Headblad, head of learning, The Built Environment Trust

 >> Also read: Can T levels help re-establish a vocational pathway into architecture?