Play away: designs for space-age modules by Robert Gordon's juniors

18th June 2004 at 01:00
Challenge six sets of Aberdeen children aged seven to 14, to create imaginative outdoor covered spaces for their school. Add the support of class teachers, art specialists and architects. Ask for art presentations by the end of eight weeks and introduce prizes as an incentive.

The result is a stunning exhibition of colourful concepts that demonstrate a lively interest in the local environment and provide a creative, youthful contribution to the ongoing civic conversation about how Aberdeen should look in the future.

The Under Cover schools sketch competition is one of three Covered City initiatives introduced by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland to coincide with its annual convention, held in a different city each year.

This year it is Aberdeen and the schools project focused on enhancing the school environment.

For the participants - Robert Gordon's College Junior School, Kirkhill, Kaimhill and Kittybrewster primary schools and St Machar and Dyce academies - the biggest challenge was the tight timescale, but it was met.

A silver, solar-powered "Egg Shelter" for S5-S6 prefects earned St Machar Academy first place in the S1-S2 category, which it shared with Dyce Academy's imaginative design for a glass-covered entranceway. The "Future Tunnel" by P4 pupils at Kirkhill Primary scooped a first in the P3-P4 category, and the P5-P7 category was won by Robert Gordon's Junior School, which designed 3D models of a set of space-age play area modules.

"We have ended up with a fantastic set of different ideas demonstrating a diverse range of interests," says RIAS chief executive Sebastian Tombs.

"It's an excellent exhibition and great fun.

"The fundamental idea has been to encourage the children to look at what surrounds them, to think about how it might look in the future and to present their ideas in the form of sketches or models. It is out of ideas such as these that real architecture comes."

Allan Paterson, of the Aberdeen Environmental Education Centre, points out that the project links to many areas of the curriculum, including environmental studies, art and design, technology, materials, mathematics, geography, geology, the sciences and history.

"By broadening the pupils' experience of architectural design, teachers, architects and specialist art teachers have extended their vision, providing a glimpse into possible future building design," he says.

Joe McTaggart, the art and design teacher at St Machar Academy, welcomed the input of Aberdeen City architect Derek McWilliam, which "added a realistic perspective to the students' creativity" and gave them the opportunity to work with an outside professional.

Simon Leeman, of Graham Mitchell Architects, who is more used to lecturing part-time at the Robert Gordon University, said: "Working with Kirkhill's P4s required an entirely different approach but it was a very enjoyable experience. The children were enthusiastic and had no shortage of ideas, although we had to tone some of them down a little to fit the brief!"

The project was sponsored by Aberdeen City Council and supported by Aberdeen Environmental Education Centre (AEEC) and the Aberdeen Society of Architects. The prizes, supplied by local construction contractor Robertson Group, included a 15-minute helicopter ride over Aberdeen and artwork vouchers for the school.

The full Covered City exhibition took centre stage for three weeks at the Bon Accord Shopping Centre, inviting feedback from the public. The RIAS is pleased with the level of interest it attracted.

"The intention is to use the ideas generated to awaken society's interest in our surroundings and to inspire us to have a say in the environment in which we live," Mr Tombs concludes.

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