Education by design

Architects bring design skills to Transition Year students learning about home, school and community

Architect Evelyn Darcy with Transition Year students from St Joseph’s Secondary School Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Architect Evelyn Darcy with Transition Year students from St Joseph’s Secondary School Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Tue, Mar 4, 2014, 02:00

Architecture has quietly been introduced to some secondary schools in Ireland as architects leave their design studios and building sites to work on short-term projects with students .

The impetus for such excursions comes from the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF) which launched an education programme four years ago with A Space for Learning, a design competition to challenge current thinking on school design. More than 1,500 students worked with 120 architects in 90 schools on that project which resulted in a touring exhibition in 2010/2011.

The latest IAF initiative, the National Architects in Schools programme, sees architects working with Transition-Year students in 25 schools in Cork, Donegal, North Dublin, Galway and Wexford. The programme is funded by the Arts Council, the Department of Education and Skills, and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

“We realised there was a need to provide students with real access to architects to interpret their environment,” explains Rachel McAree, IAF education curator. Design journals were published as an optional resource for architects, teachers and students.

Many of the architects in the initiative discovered TY students often don’t know much about the role and impact of architecture in their lives but once they engage with the subject, they have plenty of ideas, especially about how their school environment could be improved.

The students in the all-girls secondary school, St Joseph’s in Stoneybatter, Dublin developed clever new ideas on how to bring more light and space into their dark, crowded stairways and corridors. “I really enjoyed working with other students and learning about people’s different perspectives, as well as being able to see how we can make a practical change in our school,” says Monika Janas, one of the TY students in St Joseph’s.

The Architects in Schools module was a compulsory rather than an elective module for many of the participants. Some study art, others do construction studies. As part of their introduction to light, shape and symmetry, the groups looked at unusual and inspiring buildings, including Dublin’s Custom House, the Sydney Opera House, an underwater hotel in Dubai, spherical tree houses in Canada and an innovative interior of a Copenhagen school. Their tasks include drawing their favourite room, looking at how their classrooms work, mapping out their school and looking at ways it could be improved. Each group made 3D models of their re-imagined spaces.

“We divided students into three groups to see ways the corridor, classroom and canteen could be improved with different wall colours, adding plants, changing furniture or floor covering and adding things like a roof garden,” explains architect Evelyn Darcy, who worked with the TY students at St Joseph’s.

Eamonn Greville, senior architect at the Department of Education and Skills says these students are tapping into more contemporary school design ideas that are already on the agenda for architects of school buildings. “We now see corridors as a transitional space which can function as a vibrant social space to sit down, chat, look at something and as spaces where you can bring students together,” he says.

Building on a positive response
Architect Eric Osborne is working with boys in St Mary’s Knockbeg College in Co Carlow. He has introduced students to model making, photography and sketching as ways of working on a design brief. “Many of the boys come from a farming background which gives them a great ability to modify things. The school is currently being refurbished with additional new buildings so we have been working on models and digital photomontages for a chill-out zone in the central courtyard which we will present to the principal soon,” says Osborne.

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