Designing for Kids while designing with them
Have you ever seen an ultimately imaginative place maybe in the gallery or in the theatre? Did you immediately guess it must be for children? Why?
Brain coding and what is allowed?
Kids don’t walk in straight lines. They hop, detour, skip, run, and pause to investigate while testing the patience of any parent in a hurry.
Polyglot Theatre’s artistic director, Sue Gilles, has drawn on these children’s “desire lines”. Here we go; DESIRE LINES are a well-known urban design tool for creating the best fit for urban places and open spaces. In the theory of Urbanism, the desire line is that energy line that provides us all with the spine, the link, the way we go in a certain direction and not anywhere else. Set in Federation Square, Polyglot created a child-led art experience, worth describing first and analysing right through. The set was created with a whimsical mix of small and secret spaces marked out with scents, sounds and seascape features, linked by stepping stones so children, some dressed in bubble-wrap suits, can play that age-old favourite: get around without touching the ground.
If you watch how much play a child fits in while you’re walking from A to B, it is beautiful to see. It is a brilliant human thing that we lose. The art of harnessing children’s imagination and defying simple categorisation. The play “We Built This City” is a child’s play construction event using a cardboard box set that I know my son would indulge in until everyone is long gone home and the doorman is closing.
We see children display their natural propensity to be supportive, to build bridges, to meet strangers, to create mass fantasy — all the stuff that adults have unlearned. Sue Gills says in my interpretation: praising and criticism can both harm children — on the path to becoming reasonable adults. You see it takes a while for the child after the praise to unfreeze, to remember they can do something without an adult commentating on every step. The Polyglot philosophy treats children like young humans with the right to meaningful art they enjoy, rather than as unfinished humans who need art for self-improvement. It is an attitude that kids have responded to.
While all art embraces risk, working with children, it takes unpredictability to new levels. The biggest risk we take is how much we can let go. The opportunity to relinquish control is that you might find something wonderful. Stimulants and adrenaline rush bring the effect of unhappiness or depression as its anti-pod. If you aren’t prepared for the outcome don’t engage in the cause.
Experience with the workshop I participated in, run by “Komunikacije” Communication Serbian Urban Design and Social research consultancy. They created city streets in a 1:20 scale providing with cardboard houses up to your waist allowing participants to create their neighbourhood the way they can comprehend and with the creativity of children present, process unravelled creative suggestions and provide real reviews and improvements on the spot. The workshop was documented and photographed for further analysis and has been incorporated as part of site analysis and community consultations all at once.
Have we suppressed that childlike planning and design drive with a desire to excel while overloaded with codes to obey, so the question is how can we be saved? We shall follow the lead of The Creative with an understanding of possibilities and desire for amazing, inspiring and ever-evolving future spaces. The urbanism profession shall re-enter the design process at early planning stages or shall I mention at the strategic level of all plans to collaborate and reinforce that creative prospect and capacity of all urban spaces.