Archimake Review by Pallawi Sinha, Cambridge University; “All children showed self-reliance, confidence & utmost professionalism”

Archimake pallawi sinha

We were delighted to have Pallawi Sinha join us as a Guest Reviewer for our End of Term Presentations in July 2020. Pallawi is a researcher in the Faculty of Education at Cambridge University and a lecturer in Childhood Studies at the University of Suffolk whose research includes STEM and urban design projects.  Below is her insightful peer review of the event for which we are extremely grateful.

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I was invited to Archimake along with five other experts to review children’s end of Summer term presentations based on their ideations and creations around sustainable design, developed over a series of workshops attended by them. In response to the unique situation of the lockdown, the topic Archimake organisers and tutors had had children engage with was appropriately related to examining the‘ Home’ alongside drawing and modelling of a room within their homes that garnered a sense of well-being, for them. My background is in education and ecologies of learning with a particular focus on play, s[pl]ace-making, the immediate environment as a tool of learning and transdisciplinary pedagogies thus the invitation was a welcome engagement.

This document reports on the day’s events and reflects on the architectural design work generated by seventeen children (aged 7 years and above) based on their contextual studies, floor and elevation plans, layout design, 3-D modelling and final presentations on what forms sustainable architecture may take. To elaborate, children came in well-prepared having studied architectural designs that highlighted, namely the Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier, Gerrit Rietveld’s Shroder House, the Sliding House by DRMM and Chance de Silva’s Cargo Fleet. Each had been introduced by the Archimake tutors to build an understanding of the importance of air circulation, sunlight, structural detailing such as flexible or moving walls, open plan design, ideas driving sustainability and how these facets of architecture impacted people’s health and well-being. Other tasks that were pertinent to such a study included children drawing their room and house from a range of views, using their feet as means of measuring the room in their house; Small-House making; translating designs into models and making considerations for their feelings, the practical dimensions of architecture and societal issues.

Architectural Tasks and Children’s Presentations:

Focussing on the presentations of the 9 children – including Phoenix, Libby, Adam, Maryam, Theo, Leo, Haneef, Conor and Anton – for whom I offered detailed reviews, first I must acknowledge that these were markedly of high-quality, particularly when considering their age groups (7-13 years old), the short span of engagement and the challenges of coping with COVID restrictions. Phoenix, Libby and Adam, the youngest students, initiated the presentations with each one delivering some notable thinking and detailing in relation to architecture design. While Phoenix’s remodelling of her room spoke of personal connections (for instance, a sunlight space for reading, which she loved, and a place to hang her father’s painting, which she had recreated), her ‘sustainable’ house, located by a river, emphasised energy-saving concepts such as mobile solar panels that could be pulled up and down as per one’s requirement, a roof garden and structural detailing that would allow the rain water to be recycled. Libby’s presentation demonstrated a substantial reading of the contextual studies and well-rounded use of drawing and technological skills. What was particularly unique about her work was her engagement with well-being related to “a cosier space” and colour; space (foldable bed and tables; place for eating breakfast outside or inside); and recycling of material and lessening wastage (portable, stackable homes that reused the cut-outs from the window areas to fabricate the staircase for the house). Adam’s presentation revealed great engagement with the precedent tasks, definite technological skills that he seemed to have enjoyed and a depth of understanding related to sustainable architecture as evident in his discussions on the use of solar panels, stilts and water collection. What was even more striking was this young mind’s refined exploration of homelessness as a societal issue and his response to the lack of space in London. Adam’s house for the homeless ran on tracks for freedom of mobility, was designed to trap heat ‘like the greenhouse’ in the winters and the roof could slide off for air circulation, in the summers.
Next, it was Maryam and Theo, who came with two vividly distinct presentations and ideas lending to sustainable architectural design. With Maryam we were able to observe an advanced engagement with presentation and technological skills. She had a wonderful way of taking us through each stage of her ideas, developments and final designs. In particular, her tiny home on wheels for people interested in travelling was impressive in its structural detailing with an eco-roofing with detachable panels and material explorations (vinyl flooring). Another unique idea that she presented, which has topical relevance but can be developed further, was the inclusion of a compost toilet with the shower. In Theo’s presentation, a good range of studies, plans and materials were made available. He exhibited advanced technological skills in creating a three-dimensional, detailed translation of his architectural design on Minecraft, moving from the inside to outside, letting nature become one with house through landscaping. His sustainable thinking led him to include wide-ranging ideas that included a ‘toilet in a pod’ for his small-home, drain pipes to collect water, a roof garden growing vegetables alongside building the house on bamboo stilts with space for water-melon farming underneath.
This was followed by Leo and Haneef’s presentations. Again, two very diverse ways of engaging with the work and their presentations. Leo’s work exhibited considerable historical and architectural knowledge; a great range of study particularly with regard to the use of a water wheel to conserve water and turning it into energy. Leo’s house on wheels designed in consideration of homeless people was a unique translation to the brief; offering them the desired mobility they seek while keeping them safe. What also intrigued me was how he had thought about bringing nature inside by building the home around a tree; the tree further acting as the support structure of the house. In Haneef’s presentation what was admirable was the clarity with which he was able to explain the project and the processes almost employing the given space and time as a pedagogical tool. His study of light, measurement and sustainability were of high quality but, as importantly, were Haneef’ plan drawings (neatly finished, differentiations to mark the inner-outer walls, cutting the design into half to present a sectional view) that made evident a substantial understanding and passion for architecture. What was also noteworthy was his unique response to social issues and communal thinking in developing the idea for electricity-sharing.
Finally, it was Conor and Anton who delivered their presentations, both of whom demonstrated advanced drawing and technological skills. Conor exhibited excellent background knowledge, very tidy plan, elevation and perspective drawings, exquisite modelling skills and an advanced knowledge of employing technology for the purpose to bringing his design to . In addition, his conceptualisation of a modular housing for people living in poverty was particularly impressive has topical relevance and salient implications for future of housing as prices keep scaling and those economically disadvantaged can no longer access a home for themselves. Like Conor, Anton also provided us with a wide range of plan drawings, and exhibited impressive dexterity for sketching and software application. His model matched his scale drawing and was abundant in personalised (books and paintings included to give life to the place) and structural detailing (glass facade) lent to the space. In thinking sustainably, he had included a grass-roof over the garage. I was particularly impressed by the unique interpretation of the small-house, which was a mobile home with a thatched roof and cross birching, and had the option for a mobile vegetable garden patch that could be kept outside in the day and brought inside when needed.

Concluding Summary and Insights for the Future:

Overall, having engaged in the tasks outlined by Archimake and inspired by their contextual studies, children presented a wide-depth of knowledge and a diversity of ideas that reflected sustainable thinking, a concern for societal issues such as poverty, climate change and the environment, saving energy, rising housing cost. These ideas have the potential to be explored further and this is something Archimake could undertake with students returning to them in following terms. What was remarkable also was their self-reliance, confidence, and technological and verbal command. While some presentations relied on material explorations with a more hands-on approach, others employed modelling software and gaming technology such as Minecraft; either way all children presented their work with utmost professionalism
in my opinion, what was crucial to, and led to the eventual success of, the project were four defining aspects of Archimake’s planning and teaching: a) the gradual advancement of tasks, over every week; b) building a holistic understanding of architecture and children’s capacity for analysing, drawing, structural detailing, representation and presentation; c) the platform to express themselves verbally, textually, practically and technologically in consultation with their peer and tutors; and d) a transdisciplinary space for children to embody their aesthetic, affective, architectural and socially-responsive learnings.
Another aspect of this project’s accomplishment can be associated with Archimake’s dissemination of the project and efforts to build a wider network. For instance, engaging experts from the field for this review, submitting the children’s models to the Giant Dolls House Project – supported by the V&A and London Festival of Architecture – and publishing a booklet will not only access a broader view of how the project may be developed further but also give children a sense of achievement and belonging to a larger cohort alongside building confidence and inculcating transferrable skills.
In conclusion, I would like to say that this is unmistakably a project with great implications for enhancing children’s sense of ‘being-becoming’ along with a heightened responsivity to human and non-human factors in their immediate and wider communities, building knowledge on STEAM-led pedagogies with a focus on affect and performativity, and for posthuman research thinking and practice.”
Pallawi Sinha
Educationist & researcher
Cambridge University
July 2020


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