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Architecture for Everyone – on Scottish Architecture

By Caroline Ednie, Web Editor on  ScottishArchitecture.com

On 30th April the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust staged an event at The Lighthouse in Glasgow, where 35 young people aged between 15 and 20 took part in a day-long workshop. Through a series of practical activities, the participants not only developed a grasp of the potential of architecture to shape their own careers, but also learned how they could improve the environment around them.

The Scottish event, which was the culmination of a UK-wide tour, attracted more participants than any of the events held during April in London, Birmingham and Liverpool, and provided a vibrant demonstration that architecture can engage and empower the broadest of audiences.

Architecture for Everyone is an initiative created in memory of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, who prior to his untimely death fifteen years ago, was planning to study architecture as a profession. Stephen’s mother, Doreen Lawrence OBE has been a tireless champion of architecture and its power to improve people’s lives and this initiative aims to find and nurture architects of the future, whatever their background.

The Lighthouse, Scotland’s National Centre for Architecture and Design considered this project core to their objective of making architecture accessible to the widest possible audience. Working in partnership with RMJM and the Scottish Government, who sponsored the event, The Lighthouse collaborated closely with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust to ensure that young people, and particularly those from socially excluded or minority ethnic backgrounds, were given an opportunity to participate. The Lighthouse’s knowledge of Scotland’s learning networks, and the Lighthouse Trust’s ability to access ‘hard-to-reach’ young people yielded a response to the Glasgow initiative that was exceptionally high.

‘I think the whole workshop was a great way to communicate with other people and a great way to let out creative ideas’ Scott, 17.

The key theme of the workshop was ‘building new horizons’, with the main activity aimed at enabling participants to utilise their design skills in developing community/shared spaces that would meet the needs of a variety of clients. By placing the individual at the core of the workshop, participants were taught to understand the importance of design that is responsive and inclusive, and one that is tailored to individual needs as well as encouraging shared experiences. The aesthetics of design were also encouraged – a ‘stimulus’ exercise at the start of the session encouraged participants to consider ‘art in architecture’. Additionally, the workshop enjoyed input from a range of artists, architects and designers.

The session was structured along a sliding scale of complexity and challenge. Beginning with a short warm up individual exercise, participants were then asked to work in small groups to develop a client profile. Group activity continued in the second half of the day with participants developing ideas for a community space which took into account a particular challenge which was presented to them.

In addition to the core workshop activity, participants were offered portfolio advice from architectural/design professionals from RMJM. In total, 12 facilitators were involved in delivering the day, including staff from the Lighthouse.

’I learned to take into account all the different aspects which affect the design; to connect my ideas with clients expectation and the environment at the same time.’ Agata, 17

The overall aim was straightforward: to give young people confidence in the power of their own enthusiasm and creativity; to recognise and nurture their creative ability; to demystify architecture and to make it feel accessible to the participants; and to persuade them that a career in architecture could give them opportunities to make a real difference – to themselves and to others.

The event was deemed an enormous success and The Lighthouse are committed to continuing to work with a number of the participants in the future. Firstly, participants have been invited to attend a series of public discussions, the Future Scotland Debates, which will be taking place at the Scottish Parliament and at The Lighthouse over the coming months (and are also supported by the Scottish Government and A+DS). Participants will also be invited to take part in a European project called Human Cities engaging young people in the design of public space.

‘It would help me to be adventurous, not worry about mistakes and most of all be truthful to myself over my choices and ideas.’ Mark, 17

In addition, the search for highly talented individuals to win a scholarship to study an ‘introduction to architecture’ course at Harvard University this summer, led the organisers to a young unemployed woman from Penilee in Glasgow. Paula McDonald, 25, is one of six youngsters who have won an all-expenses paid trip to study architecture following a nationwide search for Britain’s architects of the future.

Paula McDonald, who studied graphic design at Cardonald College and took part in the Glasgow event, has been unemployed since September last year and has since been carrying out voluntary work on behalf of the Glasgow South West Regeneration Agency on their CRE8 project, which discourages young people from getting into gang culture.

“It’s ironic that I’ve been working for a charity which discourages anti-gang culture – which of course led to Stephen Lawrence’s death – and now I’m benefiting from an initiative set up in his name.

“Since losing my job, I’ve been at a real crossroads in my life. I don’t want to waste the skills I’ve got but I just can’t seem to get a job. Now it feels like fate and I know that when I return from Harvard I will reassess what I want to do in life – whether I use the connections I make at Harvard to help me find a job and strengthen my CV or pursue further qualifications.”

The six winners: Luke Henry-Powell (18) and Oni Hinton (20) from London; Callum Gilbert (21) from Liverpool; and Yohanna Iyasu (19) and Nick Ackers (20) from Birmingham – came together for the first time in London this week to meet Doreen Lawrence OBE, before they set off on their trip to Harvard on Saturday 13 June 2009.

Congratulating the winners on their success, Doreen Lawrence said: “I’m so thrilled that Stephen’s name has been able to inspire other young people to fulfill their dreams. Going to Harvard is such an amazing and life-changing opportunity for them.”

Architecture for Everyone – Scottish Architecture – Scottish Architecture.