Shaping the Future: What to Consider When Designing for Children8 months, 12 days ago
Le Corbusier stated in his seminal text, Towards a New Architecture, that “…man looks at the creation of architecture with his eyes, which are 5 feet 6 inches from the ground.” Logical and rational codes such as this form the standard for much of architectural production – but of course, these “norms” are as constructed as architecture itself. This particular standard is especially irrelevant when designing for children, for whom the adult-centric assumptions of architecture do not and should not apply.
As of 2018, children (i.e., people aged 15 years or younger) make up 26% of our global population; a statistic we should all appreciate given that a whopping 100% have, in fact, been children at some point ourselves. While there are a multitude of factors that shape the kind of adults we become, the architecture we encounter as children – be it the stacks in the library where you played hide-and-seek or the door handle you had to stand on tiptoes to reach – can have a great impact on your perspective of the world. When designing architecture for specifically for children, we are in a way molding these future perspectives, and it is therefore vital we treat the process with both rigor and empathy.
“Memories like these contain the deepest architectural experience that I know. They are the reservoirs of the architectural atmospheres and images that I explore in my work as an architect” – Peter Zumthor, speaking of his childhood memories in Switzerland
It is perhaps practical to first consider this from a literal standpoint: a young child’s eyes are, on average, about 3 feet 6 inches from the ground. Bad design for children is relatively simple to pick out as it typically ignores this fact (and often continues to fail from there.)
As many architectural governing bodies (such as the AIA and RIBA) push for more localized standards for school design, particularly those aiming to promote safety and healthy learning environments, architects must still consider things such as. What spaces will encourage learning? What plans will promote play? How can we create the right level of social interaction between ages?
Generally speaking, there are no universal laws for good design. But thanks to decades of research regarding the sociological and psychological development of children at universities across the world, there is data to at least suggest a number of key principles: the encouragement of social interaction, the promotion of playful learning, and the involvement of nature. How these things principles are realized can vary immensely.
In his speech to congress, the new Sandy Hook School architect Jay Brotman referenced how design for children, in particular schools, depends heavily on the individual community and the context. This, with the added individuality of the architect, creates a bespoke and organic design process from the off. Certain schemes promote certain characteristics, and some projects lean heavily on certain techniques, all doing so to achieve a successful child-friendly space that suits the function best. Through delving into what makes a successful, child-centric design, we can begin to make note of the binding attributes that great schemes share.
“We have an innate capacity for remembering and imagining places.” – Juhani Pallasmaa, the Eyes of the Skin
While often not the most appealing of design influences, safety is by far the most important characteristic of any scheme for children. This need not, however, refer to the “bubble” approach to safety; an approach which lazily often results in soft edges with soft materials in soft designs. A more basic understanding of safety for children is the notion that, as an adult, you are able to see the child anywhere in the space.
Schools and kindergartens are key proponents of using plan to protect their children. VERSTAS Architects demonstrate this in their Saunalahti School scheme, where a dominating, linear brick facade creates a border to the public, and the enclosed area uses the typology of the site to ‘herd in’ the students, without the feeling of complete enclosure.
Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child states that “every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities.” Architects have a responsibility to design spaces that enable the essential natural creativity and freedom of play, and nurture it. This can be achieved in several ways, but can be boiled down to structured play and abstracted play.
U.K. based Turner Prize winning design collective Assemble created an exhibition that summarized the themes of abstract play in 2015. ‘Brutalist Playground’ used the play areas of the 1950s and 1960s social estate architecture, promoting the ability of their solid and non-descript forms to create a space that encourages children to fill in the blanks with their imaginations. According to the research, these spaces gave the children the autonomy to do as they pleased, learning and growing along the way. ASPECT Studio applied many of the same principles into its colorful Wantou & Vanke Paradise Art Wonderland park in Heifei, China.
Contrasting this open-ended approach, the work of French architects NP2F demonstrates equal success from a more structured approach. Utilizing the traditional methods associated with urban sport spaces and play areas, NP2F guided the development of their Evolution Ground Alfortville project in such a way as to “promote a decompartmentalization of sport spaces,” maintaining a known method of interaction for the children. The project, with its areas of “urban gentleness” creating an adaptable, highlights this approach in a multi-use space. “The importance given to detail (ground, morphology, folds and boundaries) allows us to offer to the young people of the ZAC, beyond a simple football ground, a “configured” space, space of encounters and exchanges,” the architects explain in the description of the project.
In a world designed for adults, sometimes one of the most important features of child-centric architecture is child-only features. Enabling children to interact or navigate with the architecture in a way that is unique to their circumstance can be essential to the idea of play, letting the children truly be independent and self supporting through the nature of the design.
Five Fields Play Structure by Matter Design + FR|SCH shows how multiple levels of space can be juxtaposed into a fun, condensed setting, that allows adults to access each part but at a hindered pace and freedom to the children. “Dedicated to imagination” and “resisting literal and singular readings”, the structure is designed with the nimble nature of its client in mind. Sitting on a green, sloping context, Five Fields uses a carefully imagined plan to create several areas where children can interact with the architecture on their own terms, “liberating the kids to fly through the spaces”.
The one thing universal about children it is that no child is the same. By extension, no one interaction with a child is the same, and the day-to-day ways in which a child uses space may differ significantly. This is partly the reason why your traditional square, isolated classroom has been proven inefficient in the teaching and developing of young people. Spaces must be malleable, and must be able to adapt to any given situation. They must also be open, and have access to nature, as children are not meant to be restricted to the confines of our adult preconceptions of space.
One of the greatest examples of this adaptability and openness is the award winning Fuji Kindergarten by Tezuka Architects. The distinctive oval shaped plan, which features a large green space in the center and a generous, wooden roof terrace all around promotes the natural movement of children through the space. The kindergarten, as a consequence of this plan, has one of the highest athletic abilities in the area, as children who go there move on average 4km per day. The classrooms themselves have no walls, as the continuous plan means the children can never get lost or wander far away, and this open architecture is summed up by Takaharu Tezuka when he says:
This kindergarten is completely open, most of the year. And there is no boundary between inside and outside.So it means basically this architecture is a roof. And also there is no boundary between classrooms. So there is no acoustic barrier at all. When you put many children in a quiet box, some of them get really nervous. But in this kindergarten, there is no reason they get nervous. Because there is no boundary.
This openness and involvement of nature is something that Danish office Dorte Mandrup consistently shows within their work, from the hillside-like Råå Day Care Center to the more urban Kanderborggade Day Care Centre.
In many recent projects, research and design are fused together in order to create specialized spaces for certain groups of younger people. The research project Social Sensory Architectures use their work to create spaces that are both comforting and helpful to children with autism, while Spencer Luckey’s abstract, undulating platforms “form a blank canvas for the children to establish their own narrative” in a gender-neutral playground.
Catalytic Action create design play structures within refugee communities, letting the children take ownership of the design to provide relief and independence to a community of children that often has to grow up faster than others.
Providing spaces for counseling and support within schools is a key issue, as the mental pressure of being a child has arguably never been more of an issue. Architect Karina Ruiz emphasizes the importance of locating these spaces in key areas, in order to avoid disenfranchisement or the feeling of isolation. “Simple things like moving a counseling wing and putting those where students are located—near commons, near libraries—and then making them transparent.”
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U.S. Armed Forces is getting a Space Force over the objections of the Secretary of Defense10 months, 24 days ago
President Donald J. Trump intends to create a new Space Force within the U.S. Armed Forces. The surprise announcement came today at the third meeting of the White House’s newly reconvened Space Council.
“We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force — separate but equal. It is going to be something. So important,” the president said.
Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis voiced opposition to the creation of new branch of the military last year when the idea was first proposed by Congress.
Congressional leadership first floated the creation of sixth branch of the armed forces focused on space combat (sadly, not against invading alien insects though) last year… and Mattis promptly blasted the idea.
In a letter to Ohio Representative Mike Turner, one of the leaders of the Space Force initiative in Congress, Mattis wrote:
At a time when we are trying to integrate the Department’s joint warfighting functions, I do not wish to add a separate service that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations.
Apparently, the president has come around on the subject in the intervening months.
Trump is now “directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.”
The House Armed Services Committee began pushing for the creation of a space corps last year as part of the last spending authorization bill for the military. The new military force would fall under the purview of the Air Force in the same way that Marines work with the Navy, according to the proposal.
That spending authorization bill was ultimately approved, but the space corps proposal was left on the cutting floor.
Now the proposal is taking flight at the highest levels of the Trump administration. The newly reconvened Space Council is helmed by Vice President Mike Pence. At today’s announcement were celebrity astronauts like Jack Schmitt, Buzz Aldrin and Eileen Collins. Also in attendance were Gwynne Shotwell, Wes Bush of Northrup Grumman and Bob Smith, the chief executive of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
“When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space,” the president said.
For the president, the establishment of the Space Force is of a piece with a strategy to create a lasting American presence on the Moon — and eventually Mars.
“This time, we will do more than plant our flag and leave our footprints. We will establish a long-term presence, expand our economy, and build the foundation for the eventual mission to Mars — which is actually going to happen very quickly,” Trump said. “And, you know, I’ve always said that rich guys seem to like rockets. So all of those rich guys that are dying for our real estate to launch their rockets, we won’t charge you too much. Just go ahead. If you beat us to Mars, we’ll be very happy and you’ll be even more famous.”
The announcement also put to rest any questions about where the Trump administration would move policy around space exploration.
“I am instructing my administration to embrace the budding commercial space industry,” Trump said. “We are modernizing out-of-date space regulations. They’re way out of date. They haven’t been changed in many, many years. And today we’re taking one more step to unleash the power of American ingenuity.”
The statement from the president also included a discussion of the current administration’s policy of separating children from parents at the U.S. border.
“The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility. It won’t be. If you look at what’s happening in Europe, if you look at what’s happening in other places, we can’t allow that to happen to the United States — not on my watch,” the president said.
The U.S. is currently operating holding facilities for more than 1,000 migrant children who have been separated from their parents as part of the current administration’s efforts to get tough on immigration and push policy reform.
“We have the worst immigration laws in the entire world. Nobody has such sad, such bad, and actually, in many cases, such horrible and tough. You see about child separation; you see what’s going on there,” the president said.
Currently there is no law on the books in the United States that requires the separation of children from their parents. The policy is one that was enacted by the president’s appointed attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and is being implemented by the president’s appointed director for the Department of Homeland Security.
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I’m a tech VP, and I’m convinced my 15 years of improv have made me better at my job11 months, 11 days ago
Improv can be an intimidating practice because it’s about letting go and becoming comfortable with uncertainty.
As a corporate innovator and seasoned improviser, Busy Burr brings her improv skills to the workplace, helping her successfully create and collaborate in high-pressure situations.
Here are three improv skills that help her thrive at work.
For more than 30 years, I’ve worked in Silicon Valley focusing on new technologies and business growth strategy. My job is to build innovative, new businesses within bigger organizations.
Yes, and … I’ve been a part of a performing troupe in Northern California called Subject to Change for 15 years now.
I’m a seasoned improviser.
Improv is all about letting go and discovering. The key is to become comfortable in not knowing. Being on stage with no script, no props, and a promise to create something is a scary ride, but it’s one that I love.
People often ask me how I bring my improv skills into the work I do. Improv has a set of ground rules that define how you work together when there is pressure, uncertainty, and a need to deliver in real time. Here are three skills that I use in the course of my work every day.
1. Listen exquisitely: Be in the moment
Everyone has heard of the improv rule, “yes, and…” This is about being generative: About adding great ideas, and not blocking them.
The first step to doing this is to exquisitely listen. When performing improv, it’s imperative to pay attention to what fellow actors are saying and doing — and support it. Every line, gesture, and facial expression is an “offer.” Offers give clues to characters, places, feelings, and the story as it unfolds. When watch and listening intently to one another, you can see every offer as a gift.
This applies to a business environment, as well. How often have you been in a meeting and someone is articulating a nuanced concept and the first person to respond says, “Let me go back to the first thing you said…” That usually means they stopped listening after the first sentence when they had formed their reaction. Think of what they probably missed by not listening fully.
Exquisite listening happens when you shut down your judgment, and don’t plan your response while listening. You become a little more aware, and a little bit more present. When you give people the time and space they need to convey their ideas, then you can add to what they said. It validates them, and they feel heard — and that’s a gift, too.
2. Believe in yourself: Stare fear and failure in the face
Every time I do improv on stage, I face epic, humiliating failure. And while there are always plenty of awkward and embarrassing moments, the experience contains tremendous beauty as well. It’s such a rush when it works — and the best way to make it work is to not fear the empty space — the silent moment where I think, “I’ve got nothin’.”
I’ve learned to trust I will have what I need in that moment. My brain, my heart, and my fellow actors will come through. And in the unplanned spontaneity is where the most magical moments happen.
So now I make space for more spontaneity at work.
Be in the moment more. Create the white space for you and your team to connect and discover. Stop over-preparing and trust that your brain and your heart will deliver for you if they have the space to do so.
When you allow for more curiosity and spontaneity, you’re more authentic, and that’s what leads to more effective collaboration, exploration, and discovery.
3. Selfless generosity: Make your partners look good
Many people think improv is about hilarious zingers that get the laugh — and sometimes, that’s true. I’ve noticed, however, that we usually laugh when we recognize a little bit of our own selves, our own lives, and our own humanity in the scene. Laughter comes from recognizing the real-life truth that emerges in the stories we create.
Improv is about making choices that “make our partners look good.” The story and the magic exist between the actors — not with any one of us alone. For improv to work, you have to let go and selflessly give to your partners and trust that they are doing the same for you.
Imagine if you knew that everyone you work with every day was focused making you look good, and that your mission to do the same for them. Imagine the creative and innovative potential that could result. While that level of trust and whole-hearted generosity is rare, it’s transformational when it exists.
Busy Burr is the vice president of innovation at Humana. Previously, she was managing director at Citigroup, leading large-scale innovation efforts as global head of Citi’s DesignWorks. She is a longtime member of the Bay-area improvisation troupe Subject to Change.
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