How “Little Architect” is Connecting Children With the Future of Their Cities

Courtesy of Little Architect

Courtesy of Little Architect

Little Architect is a program at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. Created in 2013, the program is focused on teaching architecture to primary school age children, obtaining amazing results with more than 2,400 children from different backgrounds receiving architectural lessons. They are especially focused on running their program in low-income areas and state schools in London.

“Our responsibility as architects is not just to design but also to bring architecture to society and to create an awareness about urban issues and contemporary architecture within the people who inhabit it,” says Dolores Victoria Ruiz Garrido, author and director of the program. 

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What is Little Architect?

Little Architect is an education program teaching architecture and the urban environment in primary schools, both in and outside London, led by the Architectural Association School of Architecture. They teach schoolchildren aged 4 to 11 how to observe, understand and enjoy architecture, and to become active citizens in what they hope will be a more sustainable future.

Courtesy of Little Architect

Courtesy of Little Architect

Their in-school workshops are delivered in partnership with the class teacher and have been embedded into the UK national curriculum. The team is helping children achieve their learning targets through architecture and art, while the program provides the opportunity for children to think and communicate about buildings and cities through drawings. These drawings are used as a communication tool.

“We encourage children to create new, futuristic urban environments and to pay attention to the amazing world around them,” says Ruiz Garrido. “We want to trigger a new relationship with contemporary architecture and its local surroundings, encouraging children to care for but also to be critical of the cities we all inhabit.

Courtesy of Capco Capital and Counties

Courtesy of Capco Capital and Counties

How does Little Architect work? 

The workshops last for a minimum of two hours. Architecture is an ideal tool for integrating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Maths) into any school topic, allowing Little Architect to create strong links with History, Science, Geography and Literacy. One of their main objectives is to foster creativity. The team has developed a timeline-based methodology where they are also incorporating cartoons, movies, and books relating to children’s popular culture.

“For most of our children, in an overpopulated and expensive urban environment like London, it will be nearly impossible to afford a ‘lovely house with a garden and a garage,’ which is hardly even a reasonable sustainable model to foster. We have to change their expectations or at least give them other valuable options. It is serious stuff! If we don’t improve the way architecture is being perceived by children today, and if we don’t talk to them positively about vertical architecture, communal areas and communities, shared spaces, urban walkability, etc, we are betraying them by setting them up for a future of disappointment and unfulfilled dreams,” says Ruiz Garrido, highlighting this issue as one of the main aspects of the program.

“The way we design our cities is changing for the better. The participatory model, the community voice and a fluid dialogue between citizens and politicians is highly demanded. Today, it is more necessary than ever that we are educated from a young age in architecture and sustainable living. If we want better cities, we need committed, empowered and informed citizens acting together for our future.”

Courtesy of Little Architect

Courtesy of Little Architect

Below are a series of case studies discussing the various ways that Little Architect’s objectives have been incorporated into the school curriculum, with descriptions provided by Little Architect.

Case Studies

Netley Primary School / 17th September 2015

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal, Number 11: “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”

Two Year 5 (1 Session Each)

LA Teacher: Dolores Victoria Ruiz & Sylvie Taher

School Teacher: Rosie Chapleo & Khalida Walid

Little Architect designed double-sided A3 postcards for the students to draw and send to the Mayor of London, suggesting future projects for their local area. The main idea was to empower young children to have a sense of ownership over their future city and to teach how architecture can have a positive impact on the environment and on people’s happiness. 

Courtesy of Little Architect

Courtesy of Little Architect

Objectives

The main objective is to encourage students to engage with both the design and management of their city.

  • To teach how architecture can have a positive impact on the environment
  • To teach how architecture can contribute to the production of energy
  • To show how the existing city can be maintained and improved in a sustainable and inventive manner: extensions, rehabilitation etc. 

Courtesy of Little Architect

Courtesy of Little Architect

Encouraging the Young Voice

Part of the aim of this workshop was to encourage students to trust their own views about the city. As such we had a discussion in which we asked students to tell us what they did and did not like about the current city. One young boy said that he never felt that he could talk about his own views, and he felt encouraged to hear that his opinion did matter. In many instances the team asked students to explain their views, asking why they did or did not like something. This helped them to become more articulate about their views.

Courtesy of Little Architect

Courtesy of Little Architect

Results

Once the students had finished their drawings, the team asked them each to write a description of their project and to explain to the Mayor of London why their proposal would be a useful addition to the city explaining how it relates to sustainability in general and the UN Sustainability Goal 11 in particular. The results were spectacular as students really gained an opportunity to create thoughtful and beautiful drawings. 

Christopher Hatton / 15th March 2016

Little Red Riding Hood in your Local Area

Year 2 (1 Session)

LA Teacher: Dolores Victoria Ruiz & Patrick Morris

School Teacher: Sophie Klimt

The main objective of this workshop was to engage children with their local area through their Literacy topic: Little Red Riding Hood. The team included as part of the lesson’s material, images of themselves and their classmates, as well as images of Little Red Riding Hood. The students then had to work together to create a collage. Many students based their collages and their stories around their own very personal engagement with the area.

Objectives

The main objectives of this workshop were: 

  • Know your local area
  • Foster creative thinking
  • Encourage discussion and teamwork by working in groups
  • Encourage a sense of playful by including Little Red Riding Hood in the urban brief.
  • Foster Observation 

Courtesy of Little Architect

Courtesy of Little Architect

Talking about Urban Evolution

The team started by showing a Key Note presentation about the local area and had it had changed from the past through to the present. In this presentation, we showed a variety of images which related to everything from urban artifacts to buildings and infrastructure. It is important for us to convey to students that the city is a constantly changing place, and as such as citizens of the city, they are able to change it for the better. 

Learning through Games

The images were ordered in such a way that the same area was shown several times, from the past through to the present. We then asked students to “spot the difference.” Students were very engaged in this game and noted numerous things which had changed, such as the way buildings are inhabited, the amount of traffic on the streets, and even the change in shops and shop signage. 

Courtesy of Little Architect

Courtesy of Little Architect

Conclusions

The children were very excited to see that pictures of them had been printed out to be used in the collage and they used all the provided images. Many students based their collages and their stories around their own very personal engagement with the area and chose very familiar buildings to create their collage.

Betty Layward. Year 5. Active Planet

Learning about the Planets of the Solar System. December 2016

Year 5 students (2 sessions) 

LA Teachers: Dolores Victoria Ruiz, Natasha Sandmeier

School teachers: Victoria Wiley, A. Reynolds

Courtesy of Little Architect

Courtesy of Little Architect

The presentation was structured in eight parts in order to coincide with each of the eight planets in the solar system. In each of the sections, the team showed the relationship of the planet to the sun and the earth, and then went into the details of its environment. Given that the environments are so incredibly different, we then started to propose different types of structures, which would be suitable for each of the planets. For example, gaseous planets might need floating structures; where planets further from the sun might need a form of architecture, which can deal with the cold.

For each of these planets and their corresponding environments, the team found examples of existing architecture to inspire the students. As we went through the presentation we always tried to highlight the point that it is very important that architecture responds to its environment. The children learned about sustainable architecture at the same time they were learning about planets and climate.

Courtesy of Little Architect

Courtesy of Little Architect

Find more information about the program here.

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