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WP Meeting in Bucharest. November 2015

Between November 5th and 6th, 2015, “ Ion Mincu” House/Casa Ion Mincu, the headquarters of the OAR (Romanian Chamber of Architects) hosted for the first time the meeting of the UIA (International Union of Architects) Work Programme “Architecture and children”. The group, which brings together representatives of architects from around the world involved in projects dedicated to architecture and built environment education for children, aims to promote this field and to conduct a best practices exchange. Mina Sava and Eliza Yokina, founding members of the De-a arhitectura Association/Asociaţia De-a arhitectura, represent Romania and OAR in this work group.

One of the group’s main activities is organizing the Golden Cubes Awards every three years, awards honoring individuals and organizations that help children and young people understand architecture. Competitors are invited to present their activities or the products they develop, to teach children and young people – from preschool age up to 18 years – to understand architectural design and the processes by which the built environment is created. The Awards comprise four categories: schools, institutions, written material, audio-visual material.

The International Union of Architects is a global federation of the national associations of architects, which are its members. UIA’s goal is to unite the architects of the world, without any form of discrimination. It was founded in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1948 and has grown to encompass the key professional organizations of architects in 124 countries and territories. UIA represents now, through these organizations, nearly one million three hundred thousand architects around the world. The UIA work program “Architecture and children” was launched in 2003 in Weimar and the result of this first meeting was a guide to the built environment education for children, reprinted in 2008, which inspired the inception of the De-a Arhitectura Association/Asociaţia De-a Arhitectura.

Under the umbrella of this program meet not only UIA representatives of the member countries, but also those belonging to unaffiliated countries as well, who share the same passion for this field. The group consists of representatives of several European countries, of Russia, of Australia and of a series of other countries’ groups: Africa (represented by Egypt), the Americas (represented by Costa Rica), and Asia (represented by Hong Kong). In 2015 Romania and Bulgaria joined this group.

The work meetings include, during the initial part, presentations of the group members about new activities in this field carried out in each region, followed by a working session on specific issues. Within the Bucharest meeting a series of issues were tackled: the new logo of the work group was set, which the De-a Arhitectura Association/Asociaţia De-a Arhitectura was honored to remodel, how to reorganize the group’s website, task conducted by the Spanish team, and the organizational details related to the Golden Cubes Awards taking place in 2017.

The most interesting part of these meetings, to be shared with a wider audience, are the group members’ presentations, an updated picture of the activities of “Architecture and children” around the world. These were presented in more detail by the group’s members in the De-a arhitectura Talks conferences, held on November 7th, 2015, as part of the Bucharest Architecture Annual. A larger material about the conference can be found here and it will be interesting to discover the differences between the public speech at the conference and the additional details which emerge from the work group’s discussions.

Perhaps, from the previous meeting of the group, the most progress was achieved by the Egyptian team (Heba Safey Eldeen) who managed to gather in a working group initiatives from several African countries and to convince the Egyptian Ministry of Culture that an awareness and literacy campaign for children is needed, a campaign about the importance of quality built environment, all these following a context in which, only a year before, all the initiatives were completely ignored by the authorities.

In Croatia (Mia Roth Cerina), an older member of the group, the introduction in the new curriculum of certain elements of architecture and built environment for various courses was successfully achieved.

In France (Ewa Struzynska, president of the work program), where these concepts already exist in the curriculum or as an elective course, architecture and built environment education is taught in schools by teachers who follow a training course. However, it was noted that the syllabus was not fully grasped by the teachers or was distorted, therefore recently, an NGO organizes pedagogy courses for architects, within the programs of continuing professional education, which will later give them the opportunity to teach in schools the before mentioned syllabus, the courses being paid in part by architects and in part by their local professional organization.

Spain (Cristina Llorente Roca), like France, has numerous initiatives and projects in this area, however still unstructured in a national network, but in a few regional networks. On the point, Cristina told us about their new projects in Mallorca: an interdisciplinary project of mediating architecture through dance, performed by teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds, an urban guerilla action with mini-libraries in phone booths, an interactive architecture manual for children, to be published soon.

Germany (Hannes Hubrich) has 16 architects’ guilds/chambers, each with its own architectural activities for children, the most active being the Bavarian Chamber through its JAS (Jugend Architektur Stadt) initiative.

Austria (Barbara Feller) also has numerous regional chambers of architects, but managed to form a national architecture education network, called BINK, which supports and promotes nationally and internationally these regional initiatives. This year the first Austrian architecture for children center was opened in Innsbruck, made through participatory design with the help of architecture students and groups of children.

The Nordic countries, represented at this meeting by Sweden (Suzanne de Laval), launched a new action program: “International School Ground Alliance”, regarding outdoor spaces used by children, as a deficiency in fitting schools’ courtyards was observed, as well as a lack of suitable spaces in the cities. Noteworthy the Danish architecture policy that supports and promotes the mediation of quality architecture towards children, even if it doesn’t specify what is to be taught in schools.

Bulgaria (Magdalina Rajeva) has a single initiative “Architecture and children”, in Sofia, which received a special mention at the previous edition of the Golden Cubes Awards, but recently opened a children’s museum, where this initiative can take place.

Turkey (Tezcan Karakuş Candan, the president of the Ankara Chamber of Architects) is in a more difficult situation because of political interference in their work. The Turkish Order of Architects opposed the project of President Erdogan’s palace located in the Ataturk Nature Reserve near Ankara, but the project was carried to completion at the cost of massive deforestation. It was not until November 2015 that the Turkish Order managed to sue, with EU assistance. As a repercussion of the architects’ actions the school curricula was amended, removing most notions of art and architecture, while the programs that promote architecture and a qualitative built environment can no longer take place in public schools, but only in private ones. In Turkey the architecture and built environment programs for children are older than 12 years and are supported by the students of the Faculty of Architecture who attend a specific course.

This meeting of UIA established the program of the next Golden Cubes Award session: national competitions will be launched between April and September 2016, national nominations will be received by March 15th, 2017, and the winners will be announced at the UIA Congress in Seoul in September 2017. Projects can be sent to four categories: schools, institutions, print media and audio-visual media, the projects need to have been completed after August 2014 or have to be underway. Playing Architecture Association/Asociaţia De-a arhitectura will be one of the organizers, together with OAR, hence its projects cannot participate in this session of the awards. Stay tuned for more details about the contest in March when the theme, the new website of the work program and the visual identity of the competition will be finalized.

We are waiting for as many projects and initiatives as possible, from schools or organizations, books, films and multimedia, dedicated to architecture education for children.

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