Mission accomplished

25th April 1997 at 01:00
Seonag MacKinnon on a workshop which proved rubbish is not a waste of space

An imaginary child leaps on a rope between paper jungle plants and foam block islands across a swamp of coloured balls to climb a string spider's web, dodging the yellow spider hovering above. This jungle scene is just one component of a playscheme model put together at a pilot design workshop for Glasgow senior secondary pupils, which the Design Council and Glasgow 1999 UK City of Architecture and Design set up to encourage design in the classroom and more use of waste materials.

The 30 participants divided into groups to design a play area for children between four and eight years old, under the direction of students from Glasgow College of Art, educationist Dagfinn Aksnes and Magnus Finlayson, a professional designer from Glasgow-based Shorthouse Design, which designs for industry and supplies lighting and furniture to outlets such as Heals and the Conran Shop.

The day-long session produced a jungle, a spaceship and an Aztec geometric building - plus food for thought for the Design Council, which is using the pilot workshop to plan some hard-headed practical support for design and technology teachers.

Eileen Barlex, senior education and training manager, says she would ideally like to provide a waste directory highlighting companies willing to offer surplus materials. It would indicate the seasonal availability of some items, and how to cut up, transport and store them, for example in labelled stacking tomato boxes.

Feedback from the workshop, which took place in a similar form in London and Halifax, could lead the Design Council to reach teachers in alternative ways, such as a poster or through a Filofax insert, video or TV programme. Ms Barlex promises that it will not be a book which few teachers can afford to buy and read.

As well as helping teachers trying to meet the needs of the curriculum with scant resources, Ms Barlex hopes the information will help rehabilitate "rubbish". "I want people to think of it as mindfill not landfill," she says.

Mr Aksnes usually finds companies are willing to supply surplus materials once they learn it is for a school. The possible sources are endless: printers for card and paper; architects, interior designers and shops for flooring, fabric and wallpaper samples; carpet showrooms for giant cardboard rolls; shoe shops for shoe boxes; ski-hire centres for redundant skis. Councils sometimes have scrap stores to supply playgroups but these could become accessible to schools too.

Whisky cases, foam blocks and silver card cosmetic packaging were just some of the items secured for the day's workshop at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art. Mr Asknes, who lectures at Glasgow College of Art, leads in-service teacher training and goes into primary schools under business and education partnerships. He advises teachers to try for outside input from designers or students.

For work in primaries he suggests a teacher plus one other person for every 16 children in a day-long session. He recommends that children work in teams just like designers in industry to avoid feelings of isolation and apprehension and to broaden the creative base. Subsequently subdividing the work is aimed at sharing the workload and achieving a richer mixture of expression. Mr Asknes also urges teachers not to shy away from 3-D work, or think it impractical. "Children need to do more than just draw to get a feel for design," he says.

He suggests that "inhibited" teachers should overcome their safety fears - for example by using a lower temperature hot glue gun (available from Commotion of Tonbridge, Kent) with younger children. They should also try to tolerate the degree of chaos which is a natural part of the creative process. "Don't worry about the mess. You can clear up later," he advises."Don't control too tightly because that kills the imagination."

Glasgow interior design student Tom McQuillan agrees that children have unplumbed depths. "They say they can draw and colour in, but making something in 3-D is beyond them. It's not true. When encouraged, young people make these wonderful leaps of imagination," he says.

Mr Asknes, who is originally from Norway, believes that more children would gravitate towards a career in design or engineering if they had more chance to take part in 3-D design in primary schools. He believes girls in particular, who do not in general play with structural toys such as Meccano in the home, need to be exposed early to the wonder of creating something that people use and like. It suggests a beautiful "must-have" accessory or a piece of hospital machinery which could be rendered less antiquated and intimidating to nervous patients.

He helped convey some of the wonder of creativity when he asked a Skye primary school to design a toy lifeboat with ridged plastic and pipe insulation, as a possible model for a product to sell in the RNLI's fundraising shop. They made appropriate packaging too with card and transparent plastic.

Monitoring the workshop, Mr Asknes stresses that schools do not need bandsaws and heavy machinery to achieve good results. Scissors, sticky tape and glue guns are very effective. As he speaks, the senior children are constructing the nose of a rocket using card, sticky-backed plastic and plastic sheeting. Another sub-team is cutting out silver card moons and stars for decoration and for entrance doors. Yet another group is constructing the base of the rocket.

The Aztec geometry is taking shape. A string threads through the centre of stacked foam block triangles. A chute rather like those seen on a building site is jointed with string. Not a bandsaw in sight, just unfettered imagination and "rubbish".

For further information contact Simone Hong at the Design Council, tel: 0171 208 2121

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