FRONT / OPINION
ABOVE For Made in Oakfield (2017), MATT+FIONA worked with young people to design and create their own social shed
F R E N C H A N D T Y E
I M AG E
environment in the future.’
Already, more than 80% of people in the UK live in urban areas and are affected first hand by the quality of their built surroundings. Typically the built environment, and how it is created and shaped, might have been explored within art and design education in schools. But these subjects are on the sharp decline (the number of Design & Technology GCSEs taken by students decreased by 67% between 2010 and 2020). Meanwhile in 2021, the government quietly revoked its pledge to ‘fund enriching activities for all pupils’ through its new arts fund, a prior commitment to spend £90m a year.
So MATT+FIONA is developing an alternative model of architecture education: hands-on ‘Build’ projects. The organisation – built on a pedagogical model similar to Arkki – has now enabled nearly 3,000 young people to design and build their own spaces and places.
In 2017, we were invited to support students excluded from mainstream school to design and create their own shed on an allotment in Hull. Fuelled by a UK survey stating that 89% of young people in the UK are never asked what they think of their built environment, we were keen to make no assumptions. Instead of taking the brief as a given, we asked the young people what they thought; in place of a house for tools, they called for a place that could act as home for young people living in an institutionalised environment. The project clearly demonstrared the value of trusting young people to know their needs best and to design with social and environmental justice at the core. ‘It was just a great experience to be able to go from the stages of looking at it on paper, to actually then seeing it being built at the allotment,’ said Dan, one of the students involved. ‘A group of 11 young people had come together and just put our designs on paper. You do get a lot out of it.’
Of course good built environment education does not need to actively include co-design. But as Finland shows us, it must be built on the principles of open-ended, learner-led exploration. As the world is facing yet more unprecedented challenges – with, as yet, no known answers – the UK’s obsession with academic attainment, judged through exam grades, seems to completely miss the mark. The case for creativity and confident curiosity has never been stronger. Let’s build!
Fiona MacDonald is co-founder of MATT+FIONA. In 2021, the Thornton Education Trust (TET) gave Inspiring Future Generations awards to Arkki and MATT+FIONA
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