Childhood, Architecture and Education

Architecture, the Ideal Language to Create the Atmosphere in Which We Grow Up

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I have been lucky enough to work with children in Europe, America and Asia. People often ask me how children around the world are different. I reply that childhood is very similar everywhere. The differences arise when we grow up, when we become adults. Growing up involves assimilating the manners, customs, rites and behaviours of the societies in which we live. The atmosphere around us sculpts us, chisels us, fossilises us.

Growing up is inevitable; entering society involves blending in with our congeners, being like the rest. Growing up occurs through socialisation and education. If the atmosphere that surrounds infancy and youth foments innovation and transformation, this will be their attitude as adults.

From what I have seen with my own eyes, there are societies in the world that foment the immobility of the established social norms. In other words, there is a lack of curiosity and investigation into how to improve the lives of all. This also happens in some areas of Europe.

In order to make progress for the common good, there needs to be vision, a will and courage. The vision to intuit better environments for children. The will to act on this vision. And the courage to build it. Any change to the established norms provokes a contrary reaction that wants to prevent it.

Above all, our work with childhood, architecture and education consists of constructing an atmosphere that foments a positive and transformative attitude in the world. Boys and girls who play at discovering reality, at inventing reality through the representation of their wishes.

The arts are languages which allow us to feel our way through our existence, to give it the right shape so that everyone can live in it, to understand ourselves as a species. And architecture is the ideal language to create the atmosphere in which we grow up.

When we talk of projects that unite childhood, architecture and education, we are referring to a wide range of projects. For instance, education on architecture as a language, participative design processes, urban regeneration, educational material and educational infrastructure.

‘The Golden Dragon’, workshop by Jorge Raedó and Fabiola Uribe. Photo taken in the Leopoldo Rother Museum of Architecture, Bogota, Colombia. Photo © Jorge Raedó

During infancy and youth, we spend thousands of hours of our lives inside buildings designed for compulsory education. Therefore, this infrastructure must be architecture that also satisfies the school’s pedagogical mission.

Learning always happens within emotions and moods. The spatial quality is decisive in shaping these emotions and moods: light and shade, sounds, temperatures, breezes, distances, proportions, routes, transitions, and so on.

If the pedagogical mission is the guiding hand, the infrastructure should adapt to it like a soft glove. At the same time, the constructed environment will grant just the right spatial quality.

Architecture teaches us to live, to be, to look and to walk. Good spaces tell us where we are. Sometimes they even whisper where we have come from and where we are going. They are the symbol of something that transcends our daily lives.

Compulsory school education is the only entrance for children into the society in which they live. A child who does not integrate into his or her society well will be a problem for the community.

Childhood gardens, primary schools, secondary schools, colleges. Because they are designed and constructed spaces, they teach children about life. If they are crude, uncared for and soulless, their users will perceive that the society in which they live is the same.

If the spaces used for education are special, cared for and generous, the pupils will understand that society is welcoming them with open arms. That there is a place for them, that they are important. If we treat children with scant generosity, we cannot expect them to be generous with their congeners as adults.

The pedagogical project is a detailed map with various possible routes. Each traveller arrives with their own particular concerns; each child grows and learns in their own way. Teachers teach them to explore their own lives.

A consensual and shared map is essential. Otherwise, each of us will get lost in our own fog. The pedagogical mission is defined in each school; it is undefined and tangible in every society that makes progress.

Collective projects chase horizons that unite. Some days we make giant bounds, others baby steps. Some play with laughter, others play with serious faces. Learning is a collective, voluntary and conscious act.

The design and construction of the educational infrastructure is done with educational, architectural and environmental professionals and with the pupils and families who inhabit it.

The constructed world is the projection of our emotions, feelings and desires; it is the shadow projected by the light of our relationships.

The dialogue and exchange of ideas for the construction of schools is a learning process in itself. We create a breathable atmosphere through the ceaseless exploration of the map that includes all maps.

Main image: San Martín Cultural Centre-Cafeteria in La Balanza, a neighbourhood in the Comas District of Lima, Peru. Photo taken during the seminar ‘Neighbourhood and Childhood’ at Ludantia: 1st International Biennial of Children’s and Youth Education in Architecture. Photo © Jorge Raedó

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