The Architecture Centre Network (ACN) was an independent organisation representing centres of architecture and the built environment in the UK. ACN commissioned Atoll to prepare a series of retrospective case studies on the work on the network centres. Below is featured the fourth of six articles prepared in August 2006:
4. The A-Factor
Architecture Week 1 is the annual public celebration of historical and contemporary architecture in the UK. The week in June, aims to ‘explore architecture and the built environment via the arts and culture in an entertaining and informative way, with a rolling schedule of activities’. It is organised and co-ordinated through Arts Council England, Royal Institute of British Architects and Architecture Centre Network offices across the country. As part of Architecture Week in 2005, Northern Architecture 2 worked with school and college students in the North East, to explore landmarks and landscapes, and to design a beacon for their sub-region. An exhibition of that project, ‘North East SuperRegion!’ showcased the results – and celebrated the environmental awareness and design skills of local children and young people. As part of the project, participants were supported by Architectural Assistants brought in from local architectural practices – as part of an ongoing education programme for Northern Architecture.
June 2006 marked the 10th anniversary of Architecture Week, and as a result, a large number of innovative projects were setup around the country. Between February and June of that year, a project called The A-Factor was established by Northern Architecture as an Architecture Week education and training project – a clear development on from SuperRegion! The programme was run for 13 architectural assistants and newly qualified architects, and was to give them experience of delivering educational projects within primary schools and colleges in the North East. As a result, and with the support of Northern Architecture, they devised and delivered the Chillooteries project – the term abstracted from the Scottish colloquial ‘Sitooterie’, meaning a place to sit out and out and contemplate. The architectural assistants worked in small teams with a linked primary school or college group to explore a sense of place in chosen sites and inspired and guided students to design Chillooteries for their own schools, colleges and communities. Teachers supported the ideas and project delivery, with the sites being eventually chosen by the young people themselves. The groups were allowed to explore these sites through drawing, photography, collage, modelling and creative writing. This work was then displayed in Newcastle’s atmospheric Castle Keep as an Architecture Week 2006 event itself. Many of the participating groups came along to view their work and take part in activities.
As well as the main design workshops and exhibitions, key stakeholder CITB-ConstructionSkills 3 also provided a training day under their Construction Ambassadors scheme. Brought on board by Northern Architecture due to similar educational remits, the Construction Ambassadors programme gave young people a real-life perspective into the built environment industry by visiting their schools and giving presentations or organising activities. Similar in concept to the small group of architectural assistants engaged by the A-Factor, this is huge national network of people who already work in construction, and ranges from young graduates to experienced workers, and covers all the trades and professions. Co-ordinated by CITB-ConstructionSkills, a Construction Ambassador’s main role is to ‘share his or her experiences of a career in construction and help promote the industry as a whole’.
The positive legacy for Northern Architecture of this 2-year project has been the growth in scale and quality of delivery – as well as the increased network of partners. Both SuperRegion! and The A-Factor have proven themselves as education projects that both engages architectural practices, and is of benefit to young people in the North East. This approach has now become core to Northern Architecture’s education model, and will hopefully also be part of the 2007 programme too. Northern Architecture would like to see other architecture centres adopt similar systems in the future.
Project Partners for the A-Factor were: CITB-Construction Skills and SETPOINT North East – with financial support for the exhibition coming from Architecture Week funding, and Photoline City Limited.
Architectural Practices involved were: Sunderland Housing Group, Niven & Niven Architects, Harkin Associates, Waring & Netts, Faulkner Brown, Michael Laird Associates, Fluid and Purcell Miller Tritton.
13 architectural assistants took part in the project, working with approximately 90 young people – aged from primary school to college students. Places for assistants were advertised through RIBA and Northern Architecture, with meetings taking place over a month – three afternoons for each group. During that time, teams discussed what project and what brief they wanted to do, whilst Northern architecture facilitated the sessions and part of process.
Benefits to architectural assistant have included experience in training and experience in engaging young people for future workshop consultations, developing creative project as part of a collaborative team, and in developing their wider presentation skills.
Benefits to students and young people have included them taking part in creative workshops, and using new techniques and skills, learning more about the environment in which they live by exploring a sense of place, and working to a design brief, to begin to understand architecture and place making.
The practical legacy of the project has had great educational spin offs also: Two newly qualified architects who participated in 2005 have since gone on to work with Northern Architecture on a Creative Partnerships Tees Valley working with teenagers to suggest ways to improve the design of two local libraries. Other participants have worked with school groups in Architecture Week and in another Northern Architecture project The Way We Live.