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Veda Harrison: Why we need Architecture for Everyone

In April 2010, The Architecture Foundation worked in partnership with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust to deliver a condensed Urban Pioneers programme in Deptford, south east London.

Over five days the group took part in design workshops, created illustrations of Deptford, visited the 2012 site and choreographed a parkour performance in a project which focussed on spaces used for sport and leisure.

Lets her what Veda Harrison has to say about the project;

The statistics aren’t good. Research conducted by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment(CABE) in 2003 (updated in 2009) identified that only 2% of practicing architects in the UK are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, with very few from groups 4-8 in the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC), and the number of female practicing architects was unrepresentative of the population as a whole.

This lack of ethnic, socio-economic and gender diversity amongst practicing architects and built environment professionals means that individuals from these communities can be excluded from the design and regeneration of areas in which they live, and as a result, these redeveloped areas do not reflect the needs and aspirations of communities that live there.

It is on this evidence that Architecture for Everyone was developed.

The nationwide campaign is founded on the belief that built environment professionals who reflect the diversity of the society they serve have a better chance of creating a built environment that suits society. By designing and delivering programmes that reflect this, the campaign hopes to identify and support new and emerging architectural talent from amongst social groups that have been traditionally excluded from entering and sustaining a career in the profession.

Campaign partners, the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and architecture firm RMJM share similar values and ambitions in terms of empowering young people from diverse backgrounds and inner city communities to consider and pursue a career in architecture and urban design. The campaign is supported by Doreen Lawrence, OBE, mother of Stephen Lawrence who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in 1993. The campaign honours Stephen’s ambition to become an architect; an ambition he sadly never achieved.

Since launching in October 2008, the campaign has worked with over 250 young people across the UK. In its first year it sent 6 young people to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, USA in Summer 2009; it has attracted over £250k of PR and press including a 30 minute BBC Radio 4 documentary broadcast in December 2009 and May 2010, as well as winning a CIPR Corporate Responsibility PR Gold Award. Not bad for 6months work!

In 2009-10, the campaign aimed to extend its reach geographically, also to demonstrate its impact upon participants with a more sustained intervention, as well as offering opportunities for others in the profession to volunteer. By focussing this year’s campaign activity on design for sport and leisure it links to current debates and activity around sports, culture, health and wellbeing, and looks to the legacy left by these high profile events for young people and future communities.

The 2010 campaign kicked off in January at the Channel 4 Cinema London with the premiere of the Architecture for Everyone campaign film, ‘Our Urban Playground’, which explored the themes of the campaign and was made by young people from London. Hosted by comedian Eddie Kadi and Olympic 800m Gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu, it was also an opportunity to hear from Oni Hinton, one of the Harvard participants about her experience in the USA and how it has made a difference to her. At the launch Oni commented: “The most important thing that I learnt there was that I’m able to do whatever I put my mind to and that there are so many different ways architecture can by used and applied.”

And then the work really started. First up was a 3 month workshop programme jointly held in Liverpool and Manchester with Places Matter! Education, the North West regional architecture centre. This was followed by two week long workshops, run at the same time in London (with The Architecture Foundation) and Sheffield (with the University of Sheffield School of Architecture and Sheffield NOW!). June and July was a very busy period – 25 young people from Glasgow completed a 10 day programme which included a visit to the Olympic Games site in London and the Commonwealth Games site in Glasgow. Over 60 participants from the regional workshops visited The Lighthouse in Glasgow for a national celebration event. It was then off to Birmingham for a special Architecture for Everyone programme as part of CABE Urban Design Summer School. This was attended by 31 participants aged 14-21. Our new blog has been very busy, our campaign film ‘Our Urban Playground’ has been very well received and the updated website will go live in the next few months…Phew!

This year’s Architecture for Everyone national competition saw two young people – Syed Karim from Liverpool and Andre Reid from Birmingham – spend a week at RMJM’s Global Sports Team in Shanghai, followed by a 10 day placement with the Architectural Association’s Visiting Summer School at the University of Hong Kong Shanghai Study Centre. At the summer school, the students focussed on the World Expo site, developing plans and designs for its long-term use. On his return from Shanghai, Syed said, “It was a challenging experience, but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go. It has really enhanced my understanding of architectural design. Because of this, I’ll start my architecture degree more confident and able to cope with the demands of the course.”

It’s difficult to reflect the wealth of activity and creativity the national participants produced over the past two years in a short article. So much has happened, so much hard work and fun, new partnerships and friendships and fantastic ideas. So it’s great that this year’s campaign activity is on display at The Lighthouse in Glasgow in the ‘Our Urban Playground’ exhibition between September 2010 and January 2011.

But how do you measure the success of the campaign? It takes seven years to train as an architect, less for other built environment professions, so we’ll have to wait a number of years to really see the impact on young people’s lives and career choices. But in the short term, a comment by a participant sums up its immediate effect: “Architecture for Everyone helped me to be adventurous, not worry about mistakes and most of all be truthful to myself over my choices and ideas.”

And what of 2011? You’ll have to watch this space. Suffice to say, it will be another busy and exciting year…

Veda Harrison Project Manager, Architecture for Everyone