The Kids Are Alright

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In June 2010, I was involved with Architecture and Design Scotland in facilitating the Glasgow Architecture for Everyone workshops. The project, a collaboration between the Stephen Lawrence Trust and RMJM architects, encourages young people from the UK’s inner cities to pursue a career in architecture. This year’s programme featured architecture workshops in various cities across the UK. With the preparations for the London 2012 Olympics in 2012 and Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games well under way, the Glasgow cohort focussed on these as a backbone to the workshop. 17 young people from in and around Glasgow were initially given an insight into the personal and professional aspects of architecture and urban design and were introduced to the theme of designing for urban sport activities.
The participants had the opportunity to visit the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games site with RMJM’s project architects providing a commentary on site regarding their proposals for the new Athletic Village in the east end of Glasgow. Upon return to the Lighthouse from the site in Dalmarnock, the RMJM architects gave a further presentation of the proposals and were subsequently critiqued on their design ideas by the young participants. The Glasgow architects were not alone – Riccardo Marini, Edinburgh’s City Design Leader was also put on the spot by the panel. This forum allowed the youngsters the chance to grill the architects of one of Glasgow’s largest residential developments in a manner that even I did not foresee – the enthusiasm and rigour with which the participant’s opinions were voiced was encouraging to hear, even at this early stage of the workshop. Unexpected queries to the architects from this young audience regarding remediation strategies, project timescales and budgets proved that this bunch were going to be pushing the boundaries from the outset; perhaps this was a good time to introduce some Parkour – time to hit the streets!

The arrival and introduction of Urban sports specialists Glasgow Parkour (GP), was met with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. ‘What has Parkour got to do with architecture?’ announced one of the young aspiring architecture students upon finding out what GP’s Chris Grant had in store for them. I have to admit I too was intrigued.

We promptly marched in a military fashion to the University of Strathclyde’s urban citypark at Rottenrow Gardens – an unofficial haven for the wannabe parkour traceurs (as they are collectively known) – where group warm up exercises, that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Stanley Kubrick war movie, were followed by the bobbing and weaving of students over, under and around the various obstacles that the urban park has to offer. It was during this somewhat phenomenal activity that I realised this group of teenagers were completely engaged with what the workshop had to offer – the arrival of one of the participants in a full spiderman costume was, at least for me, a show of both camaraderie and commitment to the cause, albeit a little tongue in cheek. It was also a fitting tribute that we were on the former site of one of Glasgow’s longest running maternity hospitals – was this perhaps to be the birthplace of a new generation of creative and exuberant young talent?

Using their newfound skills of spatial awareness, and their knowledge of the proposals for the 2014 site, the students were then given a brief of designing urban street furniture that would serve to enhance the RMJM masterplan for the Commonwealth Games Village.

Having challenged the students mental and physical capabilities, at this stage we gathered the students at Glasgow Central station and headed to London on a whistle-stop tour of the Olympic 2012 site. The participants seemed initially subdued by the scale of the building works at the London Olympic Village; it was however a mere momentary pause as these young padawans seemed to be soaking up the surroundings like a proverbial sponge. The arrival of some of the London student cohort served only to enthuse the Glasgow participants further. The initial meeting between the Deptford designers and their Glaswegian counterparts soon escalated into a game of architecture and parkour one-upmanship – the beginning of a friendly rivalry.

The short but worthy visit to London was concluded with some long-winded discussion on the train home about the difference between the two cities, the sites and the games. It would seem that this particular youth group’s verbose manner was set only to escalate in the days leading up to the impending full scale build.

Upon return to Glasgow, the location for the realisation of their own designs was Gareth Hoskins Architect’s ‘Bridge’ in Easterhouse where, at the student’s request, further parkour exercises were carried out in the garden area of the facility prior to the commencement of their two day design and build project. Ably assisted by five architects from RMJM’s Glasgow office, the students set about the initial discussions for their 1:1 build. A democratic voting process saw the formation of three teams and quickly the buzzing of saws, drills and hammering began. The resident local youth groups watched on in awe as their well-attended local community centre was temporarily turned into a hive of building activity; the local toddler group pressed their little faces up against the window of the library to catch a glimpse of the real life Bob the Builders creating full scale play equipment. The architects became contractors and the workshop participants took advantage of their confidence to direct the team in realising their bamboo, willow and timber structures.

There then followed the arduous task of compiling the results of the previous eight days in an audiovisual presentation that would be displayed in The Lighthouse in front of all the other visiting cities and their participants. As the guests in their home city, the Glasgow crew did not disappoint – a slick video presentation come documentary was interspersed with original soundtrack, audio commentary and not least a light hearted and confident mix of visual treats. The Glasgow youngster’s counterparts who had travelled from London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool received the cinematic experience with rapturous applause and this was returned in equal measure as each of the cities future designers gave an accomplished account of their workshop experiences in their own respective cities.

The future’s bright, and these kids are indeed all right!

The outcome of the whole Architecture for Everyone summer workshops was compiled into an exhibition titled Our Urban Playground by O-Street graphic designers at The Lighthouse in Glasgow and ran between September 2010 and January 2011.

Craig Dunn is a project architect with Ian Darby Partnership, a tutor at the University of Strathclyde’s Architecture department and a workshop facilitator for Architecture & Design Scotland.

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