* This text is part of a paper presented at Architecture, Education and Society: International Seminar Arquitectonics Network, Barcelona, 24/05/2012. Published in ARQUITECTONICS: Arquitectura y Educación. pp- 101-109, ISBN 978-84-7653-988-0
Department of Graphic Expression, Theory and History, and Projects / Department of Building and Urbanism
University of Alicante
Future Environments / Future Generations is a collective experience in which two generations of students (primary school and university) come together to reflect on the cities of the future. Starting from the schoolchildren’s drawings, and from the fact that cities should be part of the solution to the problem of unsustainability, the two generations jointly produce future scenarios using a common tool. In the first edition, it was video games; in the second, the pop-ups.
Keywords: ecology, social, cultural, environmental, education, training, architecture, awareness, video games, interaction, pop-up, game
We propose a collaborative and participatory pilot experience in which the creative ingenuity of children and the transforming energy of young architecture students find in three video games (LittleBigPlanet, SimCity4 and Garry’s Mod) in the first edition, and in the construction of POP-UPs, in the second, the common workplace in which to represent future environments. The experience begins and ends with playing.
The workshop does not seek at any time to generate credible results charged with urban criticism, but rather to build processes, relationships between things. In other words, it is about establishing the teaching framework in which children and architecture students acquire a “relational knowledge” (Marina 2000).
Following Hannan Arendt’s ideology (1958), “first action and then reflection”, we seek to generate a relevant experience for the learning of children and youngsters. They will be the ones to draw conclusions in the distant or near future, perhaps unconsciously, thus completing their training process.
From the first moment it is designed as a relaxed experience, without that layer of commitment and criticism, of wanting to change the city, of stating this is right or wrong. We do not want to run a workshop on the city again in which the results negatively rebound in the assessment of what surrounds us. Therefore, the first thing is to eliminate the word city and replace it with environment. In other words, we want to replace the predetermined (by prejudices) concept of the city with the indeterminate concept of the environment. It is the children, through their creativity, who will determine it.
Thus, we believe more in an enthusiastic, positive and carefree attitude, not facing a reality full of prejudices but an unprejudiced one. Who better than children for this?
We accept Cristiano Toraldo di Francia’s theory that “the intellectual no longer guides the user or vice versa, but becomes a user” (cited in Lang and Menking 2003). The child, by actively participating through formats shared with the elders, becomes a user of what he is imagining and projecting, overturning his critical vision, even if he is unaware.
Children, we know, have a great creative capacity because of their ignorance, innocence or overwhelming naivety. “Children take risks, they improvise, they are not afraid to make mistakes; And it is not that making mistakes equals creativity, but it is clear that you cannot innovate if you are not willing to make mistakes; and we adults penalize error, stigmatize it in school and education, and that is how children stay away of their creative abilities ”(Robinson 2001).
As we grow older we are loaded with prejudices, fear and “a priori”. This prevents us from thinking clearly, getting out of the known. That is why children are a breath of fresh air, to make us think not of the existing but of the unknown, of the possible. Perhaps this is the time to move away from the known to discover a new world of possibilities about sustainability, the public realm and the built environment.
A CONTEXT OF OPPORTUNITIES
Taking children out of their classrooms, transporting them to a world they do not know and in which they face new challenges that they will share with another generation, helps them identify a new context of opportunities.
We share the vision of Petra María Pérez when she points out that “there are numerous studies that indicate that children’s creativity decreases with the years of permanence in the educational system, so that curiosity and creative search gives way, over time, to more rigid, convergent and inflexible behaviours.
(…) In school the child is taught to conform to established patterns, to adopt convergent thinking instead of divergent; the teacher is interested in the children answering what is expected about certain contents and that the students do not stray from the established routes ”(Pérez 2007).
In this way, away from school, in a physical space designed for innovation and interaction, subjected to stimuli by university students, etc., children recognize in the new context created a space of opportunity in which to release all their creative ability, ingenuity and intelligence. We share with Fernando Alberca the idea that all children can be Einstein. (2011) As he himself comments: “If a teacher asks a child to draw a landscape and the child is very original and paints everything black, the teacher corrects him; the teacher is not prepared to be surprised, and usually he does not like to be surprised; the teacher wants the answers in the exercises and in the exams to conform to what the book says or he has explained, and that limits the children’s potential, makes them clumsier and less intelligent because they use little imagination, they are not allowed to be creative; and so it happens that when they leave primary school, and even more when they leave secondary school, they are less creative than when they started”.
Our attitude is the opposite. We value surprise, the personal and poetic, the extravagant “a priori”, the unexpected, the unknown, and so on. And our task is to build the context to favor these answers to the question of “what is the image of a sustainable future environment?”
GAME = FORMAT: VIDEOGAMES AND POP-UP
We look for a format that allows interaction, participation, involvement. We understand that the format has to force the game, because we believe that the game is not only an optimal form of involvement but, “as a universal human impulse that is, essentially, the basis in every culture.” (Huizinga 1938).
Both video games and pop-ups are the common place to meet and work. It is a format that allows children to participate and interact both with the elderly and with the environment produced. Stop being a witness to become an accomplice. The child ends up becoming the main actor in the environment that he imagines and that the grown-ups build.
In the first workshop, the goal was to create that city virtually without using computer-aided design software, yet using video games. In some cases, as Sim City, this construction was the very purpose of the game, and we discovered for example that any attempt to build a “sustainable” city led to the ruin of the player since the game’s “black box” awarded the American city, understood this as a resource consumer and unlimited in its extension. In the other two, with the Little Big Planet or the Garry’s Mod, the city was the scene’s background. This is how we worked with stage construction modules for these games.
In the second edition the goal was to shoot a 6-minute film in which the history of 3 cities would be narrated. All the video had to be made with pop-ups or paper constructions. Thus, half of the workshop was dedicated to the construction of these cities and the other half to its filming.
The experience begins in schools. The question arises: what is the image of your sustainable future environment? 9 drawings = 9 students are selected.
The work room is set up, outside the schools and the university, in a public place in the city. In this place, they will all stay together for four days. Architecture students form 3 groups. Each group chooses 3 drawings = students to develop it.
In a first phase, the students redraw the children’s drawings according to the logic of their respective games and their own reinterpretation. This new drawing must be editable by children. In a second phase, the children act on the elders’ drawings, adapting the representation to their ideology. This becomes the base for the construction of virtual or paper environments. The children were not present all day since the workshop is held during school time, so the advances and interpretations that the architecture students made during the mornings had to be tested with the children in the afternoons; that is, the children were the true team managers and had to validate the work they did together. From there, in three critical sessions, some of them play with what others have built, thus producing an exchange of opinions and visions about what is represented.
As already mentioned, although the tools were simple, in most cases they were alien to the participants, then a part of training was necessary (both for adults and children) to be able to develop the work in a very limited time, 4 days .
In the first edition, all the participants had to become real freaks and for this we had ByteRealms, computer scientists who taught us the best tricks of the games used. We also have the architect Ángel Borrego who told us about his experience with pulp and mass culture in relation to architecture.
For the second edition we had Mariví Garrido -an Argentinian architect professionally dedicated to the construction of pop-ups- and also with the experience of Luís Úrculo and Ático 4 for the ideation and filming.
The workshop concludes with the public presentation of the results to all the corresponding classmates. And, needless to say… playing.
Note. The two editions of the Future Environments / Future Generations workshop were held in the CAMON space in Alicante and were organized by PLAYstudio and MAYDAY Gestión Cultural.
Alberca, F. Todos los niños pueden ser Einstein. Córdoba: El Toro Mítico, 2011.
Arendt, H. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.
Lang, P. y Menking, W. Superstudio: Life Without Objects. Milán: Skira, 2003.
Marina, J.A. Teoría de La Inteligencia Creadora. Barcelona: Anagrama, 2000.
Pérez, P.M. El Brillante Aprendiz. Barcelona: Ariel, 2007.
Robinson, K. Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative. Londres: Capstone, 2001.
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