FRONT / OPINION
Building engagement In terms of early architectural education, Finland can teach the UK a thing or two, explains Fiona MacDonald
ABOVE In Finland, Arkki teaches children creative skills through hands-on architecture projects
IN FINLAND, ARCHITECTURE holds an important place in school-age education. The subject was put on the after-school curriculum as early as 1993 – the same year that Finnish architecture education organisation, Arkki, was founded. In 2007, the Finnish government made the trailblazing move to place architecture on the national curriculum, as a compulsory subject. Although it has since been moved to sit within the broader arts curriculum, it continues to be highly valued and taught through government-subsidised after-school clubs. This value is no doubt influenced by the groundbreaking work of Arkki, which has led the way in innovating and developing the pedagogy for this teaching for almost 30 years.
Arkki’s work demonstrates the joy and importance of learning about architecture: its aim is not to impart a body of factual information, but to pique a confident curiosity in children and young people. What’s more, the Arkki approach shows how direct experience of different types of good design raises awareness and aspirations: it is often through our own sensorial experience that we form views on what we like and dislike, and what we want in our own lives and communities.
Arkki’s work actively imparts agency to young people: analytical and communication skills are coupled with activities to promote visual literacy, dexterity and making skills, all with the aim of giving children the right to imagine an alternative future. Collaboration, openended problem solving, exploration and two-way dialogue sit in stark opposition to traditional didactic education.
MATT+FIONA, the organisation I founded with architect Matthew Springett in 2016 to involve and empower young people in the built environment, is one of a handful of grassroots organisations that would like to see Finland’s educational approach replicated here in the UK. We see architecture and our built environment as fundamentally intrinsic to the cultural life and discourse of children and young people.
Learning through and from the built environment can help children have a voice in how the world around them develops. It can also encourage a built environment that supports our physical and mental wellbeing, education, the health of our economy and environment. As former Arkki director Pihla Meskanen says: ‘Architecture education for young people helps us create a deeper understanding of our surroundings and a demand for a better IMAG E
L A U K K A N E N
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