Our lives are shaped by the sur­rounds we cre­ate

Ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren about ar­chi­tec­ture, de­sign and con­struc­tion in a hands-on way could help us to build a bright new world, says Ric Blenkharn.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - FRONT PAGE -

MOST of us have a home, be it a high rise flat or a de­tached house in the coun­try.

It is our own space in the world, a place where we live alone or with oth­ers or as a fam­ily group. The house will be sit­u­ated in a city, town or vil­lage and usu­ally sur­rounded by prop­er­ties.

To­gether we ex­ist as com­mu­nity. Our lives are shaped by both home and the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment and yet it con­stantly sur­prises me that many new clients have lit­tle or no knowl­edge of what is pos­si­ble through de­sign, and through the work of an ar­chi­tect.

“I thought you just drew plans” or “it’s only bricks and mor­tar” are phrases we hear all too of­ten.

How is it pos­si­ble to change this sce­nario, so that both the de­sign of our hous­ing and the com­mu­ni­ties they form can be fully un­der­stood by all?

I be­lieve that ed­u­ca­tion has a key role to play from a young age through to adult­hood.

I’d like to think that the ar­chi­tec­ture we cre­ate can shape and in­flu­ence home life and so­ci­ety and I’d like to think that pro­fes­sion­als work along­side the com­mu­nity in the de­sign of in­fra­struc­ture and de­vel­op­ment.

It would be great to have ar­chi­tec­ture at a point where ev­ery­one can be in­volved in the de­sign of both in­di­vid­ual homes and the com­mu­nity they form.

I be­lieve that this level of un­der­stand­ing must stem from an in­te­grated early-years cur­ricu­lum, where creative play is ac­tively en­cour­aged and the “can’t do” health and safety ap­proach man­ual sits firmly on the shelf.

“Give me a child un­til he is seven and I will give you the man” is a well known say­ing and it is rel­e­vant here. If we al­low chil­dren to learn through creative play then they will start to un­der­stand the role of shel­ter, cli­mate and so­ci­ety from a young age. The other ben­e­fit of such an ap­proach is that we will still nur­ture those less aca­demic and en­cour­age the phys­i­cal mak­ers and do­ers of the fu­ture. Un­der­stand­ing through real, rather than vir­tual play, will have pos­i­tive con­se­quences for the fu­ture. The cur­ricu­lum could be de­vel­oped through sec­ondary years and per­haps taken out into the work place. How many chil­dren would en­joy time on a build­ing site or in a joiner’s shop, learn­ing to make the places we in­habit?

At the same time, the mean­ing of home and place can be de­vel­oped through lit­er­ary works. In To­wards Re-en­chant­ment: Place and its Mean­ing a se­ries of short es­says, to il­lus­trate the ti­tle, Robert Mac­far­lane writes:

“Cer­tain kinds of lan­guage can re­store a mea­sure of won­der to our re­la­tions with na­ture. Oth­ers can of­fer small tools for small place mak­ing. Oth­ers can al­low the things around us to talk to or look back at us, freed from their role as stand­ing re­serve, and in­stead pos­sess­ing what the early an­thro­pol­o­gist Lu­cien Levy-bruhl called ‘par­tic­i­pa­tion’, by which term he des­ig­nated the an­i­mistic logic of peo­ple for whom in­ert ob­jects like stones or moun­tains are thought to be alive, and for whom cer­tain names or words, spo­ken aloud,’ may be felt to in­flu­ence at a dis­tance the things or be­ings that they name, such that peo­ple, places and crea­tures may all be felt to par­tic­i­pate in one an­other’s ex­is­tence, in­flu­enc­ing each other and be­ing in­flu­enced in turn.”

How re­fresh­ing it would be, to see this level of un­der­stand­ing in our vis­ual ap­praisal of our built and nat­u­ral world. Per­haps we can start to see our world in new ways, which will af­fect how we choose our fu­ture homes.

Philoso­pher and ar­chi­tect Peter Zumthor writes: “The strength of good de­sign lies in our­selves and in our abil­ity to per­ceive the world with both emo­tion and rea­son. A good ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign is sen­su­ous and in­tel­li­gent. The roots of our ar­chi­tec­tural un­der­stand­ing lie in our ar­chi­tec­tural ex­pe­ri­ence; our room, our house, our street, our vil­lage, our town, our land­scape. We ex­pe­ri­ence them all early on, un­con­sciously. The roots of our un­der­stand­ing of ar­chi­tec­ture lie in our child­hood.”

Zumthor recog­nises the im­por­tance of early years teach­ing in de­vel­op­ing an un­der­stand­ing of our built world.

The study of our homes en­com­passes a mul­ti­tude of top­ics from ba­sic shel­ter to cli­mate and to­pog­ra­phy through to tech­ni­cal con­struc­tion and the so­cio eco­nomic af­fects of hous­ing. Ed­u­cat­ing our chil­dren about all these would be a step for­ward in the over­all aware­ness and im­por­tance of hous­ing de­sign in so­ci­ety. I dearly hope that these lessons can be taught and that as a so­ci­ety and pro­fes­sion, we will work col­lec­tively to de­sign homes and com­mu­ni­ties that will be of last­ing ben­e­fit for suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions.

As chil­dren’s au­thor An­drea Beaty says in her book Iggy Peck, Ar­chi­tect: “Young Iggy Peck is an ar­chi­tect and has been since he was two when he built a great tower in only an hour with noth­ing but di­a­pers and glue”.

NEW LIFE: This barn con­ver­sion comes with three hol­i­day cot­tages and is in Great Ayton, birth­place of famed ex­plorer Cap­tain Cook

START­ING YOUNG: Iggy Peck, Ar­chi­tect by An­drea Beaty is pub­lished by Abrams Books and il­lus­trated by David Roberts.

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