When artsdepot (a north London arts centre) launched a brief to work in collaboration with five schools in the London Borough of Barnet, we saw it as an excellent opportunity to continue our participatory form of practice. In a hands-on and innovative project to introduce architecture and design to children, we encouraged 140 pupils (aged 8 to 14) to explore ideas about identity, meaningful spaces and a sense of place. At the same time, they learned creative and technical skills related to architectural and design processes. The project culminated in an exhibition, The Storytelling Igloo, at the Apthorp gallery space at artsdepot.
We wanted to engage young people on an imaginative, creative and practical level, and provide insights into design processes and the place of creativity in culture. Our idea was to challenge students from each of the schools to design and make their own ‘Papercrete’ bricks using 3D modelling software and CNC moulds created at the University of Westminster’s Fabrication Lab. (Papercrete is an innovative and sustainable construction material which recycles paper pulp, combining it with cement and adhesives to form a durable and versatile medium for modelling and forming bricks.)
Each brick had an individual student’s story about their favourite place in their neighbourhood depicted on the surface. During the design process, the students visited the CNC cutting machine at the fabrication laboratory inside the University of Westminster to gain new insights into the fabrication process.
Once made, all of the bricks (300 in total) were brought to the gallery space and used to build the ‘Storytelling Igloo’. The exhibition also featured the children’s drawings and installation elements to explain the making process, as well as a short film which documented the whole process of design, fabrication and assembly.
For us, the project further proves the remarkable creativity of young people and highlights their sensitivity to the built environment. It enabled them to explore and release some of this creative potential with the guidance of professional designers, fabricators and architects, allowing many children to benefit from skills and experiences unavailable to them in standard curriculum or in everyday life.
“Aberrant have been a delight to work with and have enriched our schools programme and opened our minds to the possibilities of collaborating with agencies beyond our usual outlook. The exhibition is one of the most engaging we have presented and you can see the learning implicit in every level of the work, the film, the drawings and of course the igloo itself”.
Katie Burse, Programming and Participation Manager at artsdepot
artsdepot, North Finchley, London