Children bring fresh ideas to the design of public spaces

Designers have praised contributions to public design projects from children and young people, saying they inject fresh new ideas and a different perspective.

A new project targeted at children aged between nine and 14 shows the value designers attach to young people’s involvement in public design. Space Shapers 9-14, developed by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and Beam with The Architecture Centre in Bristol and the Kent Architecture Centre, aims to explore how young people feel about different public spaces. The project, launched last week by Children’s Secretary Ed Balls, encourages young people to assess how they feel about an existing space, and suggest changes.

The 14 pilot projects already in place have shown that children have a great sense of community pride and empathy, according to Cabe programme officer Hannah Loizos. ‘Children are generally very keen to make the space work for the whole community,’ she says. ‘Adults don’t often feel as comfortable doing that. Children are generally more considerate than they’re given credit for. People get involved with Space Shapers if they want to make a difference.’

Working specifically on developing parks, streets and squares, Space Shapers 9-14 delivers the opinions of young people to the clients, so they know which improvements local children most want to see.

The project provides a ‘tool kit’ for the children, which includes design, map-work, role-play, voting and writing, to record their opinions. By using a voting system in each group, the project makes it possible to collate opinions into specially developed software and express the information as a bar chart for the client. The client will receive a final report, which includes things such as poll results, as well as general comments the children have written down.

The client can then use the ideas produced at their discretion. ‘The votes produce practical ideas and help [the clients] become more rounded in their understanding of what the real issues are on the site,’ says Andrea Mercer, project manager at Beam. ‘Local authorities are realising they have to engage with how young people use spaces,’ she adds.

The new initiative is an offshoot of the initial Space Shapers project for adults, and Mercer says working with children differs. ‘Young people don’t look at a space in the same way an adult does,’ she says. ‘By actually going on site and identifying what they like and don’t like, and using the tool kit, they gain a better understanding. They’re actually more aware than grown-ups, but need to be engaged in a different way.’

The pilot projects have shown that young people bring a ‘vital, vibrant and informed voice’ to development, says Beam regional co-ordinator, Carmen O’Toole. ‘Often young people are on the fringe of the consultation process,’ she says. ‘The launch will translate into real improvement.’

The Eco Design Challenge, part of Designs of the Time Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, takes child involvement one step further than Space Shapers 9-14, and designs eco-friendly schools with the children. ‘We treat them like the client,’ says senior producer of the challenge, Matt Hocking.

‘Children don’t over-think or put limitations on things; it’s a much cleaner vision,’ Hocking adds. He says that children respond well to the projects, constantly offering up new ideas to improve their surroundings. ‘We use design to solve the problems – design doesn’t have any borders,’ he says.

Child-focused design initiatives
Space Shapers 9-14 –
launched last week, the project aims to give young people a say about public design. Developed by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and Beam, with The Architecture Centre in Bristol and the Kent Architecture Centre
The Sorrell Foundation – set up in 1999 with the aim of helping young people to be more creative, and using good design to improve quality of life. Its Joined up Design for Schools campaign gives students the power to redesign their schools
Eco Design Challenge – a programme run by Designs of the Time Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the challenge gets Year Eight pupils across Cornwall to redesign the parts of their schools with the biggest carbon emissions

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