Playful building is so much more than lego…..

Meeting the professionals
There was an undercurrent of something very exciting at our last Shape My City workshop (14 May). Meeting for the second time the group welcomed architects Sally and Lawrence who form part of the architectural field-research practice Tangentfield. The collective work with individuals, communities, specialist and novices within the field of sustainable architecture, helping people realise projects in both temporary and permanent constructions. Tangentfield’s tagline ‘adventures in playful resourcefulness’ was a sentiment that seemed to spill over into the workshop, a space where creativity and possibilities seemed limitless. 

Fourth year UWE Architecture and Planning students Woody and Maira, who have been working away diligently in the Architecture Centre creating a wonderful display as part of the City Ideas Studio, also joined the session. Collectively, Sally, Lawrence, Woody and Maria offered insights into the individual journeys of their architectural careers so far. Lawrence described how, he had always been interested in art and creativity as much as science and mathematics, and architecture was a beautiful marrying of both of these disciplines. 

After completing his A-Levels, Lawrence visited different universities that offered architecture courses. He told the group that you should try to find the course that is right for you. For him Cardiff University was the right choice, offering not only an excellent course but what he felt was an ideal location.  After completing the fourth of the seven years it takes to become a qualified architect, it was a new job that brought Lawrence to Bristol where he later completed the final years of his degree at UWE. 

He spoke of the second year ‘doubt’ which Sally, Woody and Maira confirmed they had all felt, the feeling that is in many ways the ‘make or break’ year where many question their dedication to the 7 years of study. In spite of the hard work and the moments of doubt that inevitably befall us all at times, the four assured the group that they felt they had made the right choice and are glad that they persevered to reap the many rewards that a career in architecture can bring. 

Speaking about the highs and lows, Maira described how she has developed a thick skin in order to face the dreaded ‘crit’ in the first few years of study and had learnt to take the constructive criticism on board and learn from it. Whilst Woody shared the delight he experienced when after his first year of study, he was fortunate enough to work on a live project that saw his designs transformed into an actual building. This seemed to be a unanimous high point that each of our mentors had felt during their career - a great and fulfilling sense of achievement. 

Sally, also a senior lecturer at UWE, gave invaluable advice on the importance of grades in the real world, saying that indeed grades are important as ‘they get you through the door’ but what's also very important is how your individuality and interests help shape your practice. Architecture is more than just buildings - it is about discovery, politics, culture, and the world around us but above all is about people. Showing you understand this, and that you have a passion for designing with these ideas in mind, are what help make you a good architect. 

Both Sally and Lawrence answered our Shape My City question: If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, knowing what you know now, what would it be?
Sally revealed that her shy younger self found a voice through architecture and through her work and has come to realise that architecture is mostly about common sense, with a good helping of awe and beauty. Lawrence told the young city shapers ‘remember to enjoy the work, it doesn’t all have to be so serious’.

The #livebuild project
The group were then presented with the first ever #livebuild project in Shape My City history. The live project is being pioneered by Shape My City 2014 alumni Hani (@HaniDanikwoBear). Inspired by a recent trip to Ethiopia where he saw traditional earth dwellings, Hani wanted to bring this sustainable and resourceful building practice to a real project in Bristol. With the backdrop of Bristol’s Green Capital year, it seemed that this ambition could become a reality. With the help of Sally, Lawrence, Woody, Maira, and Amy as the ‘development team’, a perfect live project was  found: The Asylum Seekers Allotment Project (ASAP) in St George, East Bristol, which is in need of a new outdoor shelter and cooking area for its participants to meet, talk and to share food and ideas. 

The development team made site vists to take photographs, talk to allotment project staff about the brief and to map the site. The ASAP project wants the shelter to use natural, and recycled resources found on site or in the local area. The shelter needs to be able to accommodate 10 people, not be enclosed and feel connected to the rest of the garden. It will be situated in the corner of the site and be in keeping with the peaceful, serene atmosphere of the natural surroundings.

The first step in bringing this project to life is to decide on the structure and layout of the shelter. During the workshop the participants were set this challenge. They split into small teams and guided by the expertise of our professional guests, the groups discussed how the shelter would look, the various needs it must fulfil, how it will fill the allocated space and importantly what materials it would be constructed from. They created 2D sketches of their designs and simple 3D models to illustrate thaie ideas. Each group then presented their concepts to their peers and the development team.

Ideas were abundant throughout the workshop, each group motivated by the fact that their structures would provide shelter and warmth to particpants of this vital community project, enabling staff and asylum seekers to use the site more frequently and for longer during bad weather. The design ideas created by the young people will feed into to the final design and structure being worked up by Hani and Tangentfield, in partnership with ASAP staff and participants.

The Shape My City #livebuild will be taking place on site in St George during July 2015 with support from Engineers Without Borders students from UWE. A project blog has been set up and a film and exhibition about the project will be produced for dispay in the Architecture Centre's City Ideas Studio in the Autumn. If you are interested in supporting the project contact the project team through the ArchitectureCentre.

In my opinion last night’s workshop was the start of an inspiring tale, one I don’t think could have been realised without the nurturing and supportive environment of Shape My City. It is a place where voices are heard, where young people’s ideas are valued and confirmed. I believe the #livebuild project is going to be a great success and is an amazing opportunity for the young people of Bristol to make a difference, gain a valuable understanding of how to work to a project brief and make new connections within and for their city. I wish them all the very best, I know it will be a great success.

Written by Hannah Luff, Programme Intern, Architecture Centre