Transcript: Making Space for Young People in Design
Learn how The Bartlett is working to create a new generation of designers and architects who feel empowered to build a better world.
bartlett, people, architects, students, design, architecture, built, fiona, young, environment, outreach, schools, education, learning, sector, unlimited, continue, profession, support, covers
Matt Springett, Christoph Lindner, Kemi Hassan, Fiona MacDonald
Christoph Lindner 00:03
Hello, and welcome to Building Better, a podcast about life and research at the Bartlett and how we are trying to build better.
Christoph Lindner 00:15
My name is Christoph Lindner and as well as being your host for this podcast, I am also the Dean here at the Bartlett. In each episode, I'll be sitting down with other members of this community to explore a topic that captures a snapshot of what happens here, from innovative techniques to interdisciplinary ideas to groundbreaking results.
Christoph Lindner 00:45
So far this series, we've talked a lot about the limitations of space and how to make the built environment better and fairer, and more accessible to everyone. And a lot of that conversation has been about getting more voices involved in the design process and opening up architecture to a more diverse community. So we're going to be continuing that conversation in today's episode, which is all about creating space for young people in design.
Christoph Lindner 01:16
My first guest this month is Kemi Hassan and Kemi is the Senior Outreach Officer here at the Bartlett and the co-creator of Design Unlimited, a pre-16 outreach program that introduces young people to the built environment as a subject for higher education. I'm also joined by Matthew Springett and Fiona MacDonald, from Matt+Fiona, which is a social enterprise that gets young people involved in the development of their built environment and empowers them to have their say. Matt and Fiona co-created Design Unlimited, alongside Kemi, and Matthew is an award winning architect, and a Bartlett alum. He also runs an architectural design studio and has been teaching here for the past 14 years. Fiona has also taught architecture at the Bartlett and won awards for her architectural work. She established the National Schools program for the Royal Institute of British architects, and she is head of learning at the Design Museum in London.
Theme music 02:25
Christoph Lindner 02:32
So where I'd like to start the conversation is just learning a bit more about what projects you're working on and Kemi could you tell us a bit more about your current outreach work that you're doing at the Bartlett, and about the Design Unlimited program specifically.
Kemi Hassan 02:49
So like you said, it was something that was developed when I joined the Bartlett because we realized that starting a lot sooner working with young people at an earlier stage, it will probably be more effective than waiting until they're a lot older and thinking strongly more about higher education. And working with Matt + Fiona, the built environment outreach group has been great in terms of they've been doing this for so long working with so many non-selective state schools and doing pretty much what we want-what we wanted to do anyway with our pre-16 project. And the aim of it was just simply to introduce them to the built environment, to the prospect of higher education and to the Bartlett. So they know it's, it's something they can become familiar with. It's something that they can have some kind of a relationship with the schools, that we can start developing that in a few years. Hopefully, when they're in year 11, or 12, they can come back and do something with us again, with that, you know, one of our post-16 projects, and by then the effect of doing something like Design Unlimited would have worked on their knowledge, will have worked on the education of the built environment, higher education, and most importantly, would have built their confidence in being in a space like UCL in the Bartlett and being around other people who have interest in in the built environment.
Christoph Lindner 04:20
So before we launched Design Unlimited, our outreach work was really focused on students that were older than 16. So that that age between 16 to 18 year olds, why is it important that Design Unlimited is working with students who are younger than 16?
Kemi Hassan 04:36
The reason we're doing Design Unlimited is because of outreach, because we want to widen access and widen access in relation to equality in education and then equity as well. So starting at that early stage, means that we're given them just a little bit more of a chance than their other students who are probably privately educated or have parents who can help their students when it comes to navigating education when it comes to higher education, or who have richer parents. Our students, students who work with don't necessarily have that and the schools as well are not equipped to be able to really give their students that focus to you know, they tend to be underfunded and understaffed. So we're hoping that we can kind of support-provide that support that you know, given an extra curricular activity to those students. And I do believe that that's something that will kind of follow them through their, their time during secondary education, making it not necessarily even but close to making an even keel to other students who already have access to all those things.
Christoph Lindner 05:46
That's great to hear. And of course, Design Unlimited is a collaboration with a number of people involved. And I'd love to hear a bit about how Matt and Fiona we got connected with you and the Matt+Fiona Foundation. So can you tell us a bit about your work in general, and also how you found your way into co-creating Design Unlimited.
Matt Springett 06:08
We're both trained as architects, but we've always had an interest in education and learning. And I think that's been sort of lifelong for both Fiona and I, through various initiatives from from our early teenage years to our 20s. We've been involved in sharing with with young people, not just within the architectural sector, but with more broadly. But our paths crossed about 10 years ago, when Fiona was working with Open City opening up their emerging program. And I think it's it's, you know, two kindred spirits. Fiona was an educator commissioning architects to do work with young people. And I was an architect into sort of, if you like, break the boundaries and moulds of the ways in which we might engage with people, particularly younger people about thinking about their built environment. And we've worked together, I guess, over 10 years, but we've been we've set up this initiative about six years ago now with the I guess the ambition of not train- historically, not training little architects or little engineers, but really to allow everyone to, to think about how their built environment is shaped. And we were really super excited, well, when Kemi approached us to talk with her about actually how we could think about if you'd like formalising a lot of the processes that we've done with an engagement program, which targeted a younger audience from from the accelerate program.
Fiona MacDonald 07:20
Yeah, I mean, it was a it was a privilege to work on accelerate many years ago now. And Bartlett was a founding partner in that program, and was really integral to setting out the objectives of that program. And the way that it would would work at a time when there weren't, there were a few programs happening, but there weren't that many outreach programs happening. And so it did feel like something very, very new. Now with the with the ability to reflect and look at that, that work exactly as Kemi is saying, we know that the the biggest difference that can be made for a lot of young people is pre-GCSE before they're making those decisions, not just from a perspective of narrowing down and potentially making the wrong subject choices, we know that you can you can do very successfully, you can be very successful in the built environment sector, regardless of what you've studied. But the importance is, you've still got that thirst for learning. And our school curriculum and methodology of exams means that I think a lot of young people feel that they don't fit that mould. And they switch off to learning at quite an early age simply because actually, they have very diverse interests that are not encouraged in our current school school curriculum. So programs like Design Unlimited, really are about reaching those young people at a stage where they might be thinking, I'm not sure that school's for me and showing them that school right now might not be for you. But there are amazing career opportunities ahead of you. If you can just hold on to that and continue to apply yourself and your different types of talents and experiences. And we know that the built environment needs people who've come from diverse lived experience, how do you how can you design for everyone, when you've only got a very small sector of society who are doing that? Who are making our built environment? So we know that this is absolutely critical.
Christoph Lindner 09:16
Is it a question of design and architecture just not having a clear place in a secondary curriculum? Or is it more that the space for creativity, creative problem solving isn't sufficiently valued? You know what it is-what is it about education at that stage that both enables and blocks an interest in design?
Fiona MacDonald 09:37
I mean it's a brilliant question, and it's a complex question. I suspect we've all got different views on that. But something that is apparent is secondary schools are very married to subject based learning and a lot of that is then linked to our examination system which is predominantly subject based and subjects like the built environment and architecture can therefore fall through the cracks. Just within the last 10 years Design and Technology at GCSE has dropped by 60%, Art and Design by 30%. And that's just the last 10 years. And some schools now don't even have Design and Technology departments. Because with with making, with creativity, with experimentation, sadly, also comes cost of resource. So it can be one of the first subjects to be sidelined. Now, of course, we know that built environment architecture linked to subjects across the curriculum, but often because the curriculum is quite tight. And there are particular deliverables that have to be have to be taught, it can sometimes seem too ambitious a topic to be explored.
Matt Springett 10:45
I think I think that's that's right. And I guess Design Unlimited extends beyond the kind of realms of just design to the broader engagement about how careers within the built environment profession, all of which kind of span the Bartlett gamut and remit of further education. But I think, in some ways, yes, I think we have a lot to be frustrated about within our our secondary school education system. But actually, the young people that we engage with continue to surprise and amaze us with their sort of steadfast kind of positive desire to kind of engage with their city, both through this year's program and with other work that we've been doing. We've been, I guess, really encouraged to see the conversations that young people are bringing to the table about how they see see their their built environment being shaped, and actually how they see their role as the change makers of the future. And they are looking for opportunities and platforms for within which they can they can launch those changes. I think that's one of the been the really lovely things. I mean, one of the lovely things about this year's program, which has taken the conversation about design and beyond, if you like last year's pilot school, which was a single project for a single place to much more broad altruistic view of the future and the future cities that we need to make to deal with the climate emergency and all sorts of other social equity agenda.
Kemi Hassan 12:08
I absolutely agree what you both said. And I think that's what's so amazing about the work you do with these schools, because what you're doing is almost bringing the built environment to them and allowing them to kind of see a space in their life or in their surroundings in their everyday and put the and fit the built environment into that. So it becomes something that they can recognise, something they can, you know, they can spot they can see, whereas before them working with us, they probably wouldn't ever think of the built environment and think that that's something to do with them or that they have any kind of input in anything to do with climate change, recycling or anything like that. So I think that's what's wonderful about this project is that they're able to see themselves in it, contribute, and they're given some form of agency as to how, what can they do to change everything around them?
Christoph Lindner 13:05
That sounds really inspiring. And it really makes me wonder, what are some of the things that the young people you work with, say about the built environment that they currently live in? What do they think and feel about the cities they live in now?
Fiona MacDonald 13:20
Something I was really struck by, well, this was a couple of years ago, pre-pandemic, but it was by a group of young people growing up in Hackney. And I was asking them what they thought about their built environment and the kind of the borough around them the city, and they were using quite, it was quite sad, actually, they were using terms like it's quite grey, it's quite boring. There's not much for us. And when I then suggested and said, actually, in some, in some realms, it's seen as one of the creative hubs in the world. They just couldn't get their heads around, they burst out laughing, they thought I was pulling their leg. Like what? Here? Where I've grown up? The other side of the coin is whenever we were designing with young people, their belief in the importance of social environmental justice is absolutely paramount. It's not questionable. And it's something that compared to many adults I've worked with in the sector, they are such strong advocates for fairness and for rights for all and that this follows through in the kind of designs that they're coming they're coming up with. So that's hugely heartening to see how their expectations are above and beyond, I think the level that our legislation is currently at, and hopefully we will continue to see that follow through when they get into positions of power as long as we enable them to get into positions of power. And that's, I think that's the concern and that's what drives programs like Design Unlimited and and Matt and I, is to make that change and enable those young people to get to positions where they can make the change they want to see.
Matt Springett 14:59
I think one of the things which I, well we, repeatedly find is we all of us in this podcast have the privilege of living in London, which is a incredibly multicultural city with a lot to offer. But so many of the young people who that we're working with in London and other metropolitan cities is that actually their lived experience is very local, and to a degree where they may not be leaving their postcode and may never have left their postcode. And it's not uncommon for that to have happened. And I think actually, it's very easy for us, particularly those in involved in the built environment to see a city as a much wider landscape where, where there is opportunity and possibility to dream and imagine and to do incredible things, when actually, I think a lot of the experiences are that the shared spaces within people's lives, the spaces outside of their homes, their places of work, or maybe in school, if they're younger people are actually incredibly challenging spaces. And they're incredibly disenfranchised from a lot of those spaces. And I think the way we get around that is not just by empowering young people, but it's also about talking to the people who are also currently shaping that that's other architects, other placemakers, other developers, other architects, other architects in in training, so other architects in school should be engaging with these processes. And it's been lovely to see again, as part of this approach that Kemi's established that the the ambassadors from the from the Bartlett school, are a part of that journey that their students, you know, from, from the Bartlett school, seeing those lived experiences of those young people. And I think well Fiona and I both think that should be almost a mandatory component of all young architects kind of curricula, as well as sort of older professionals as well.
Theme music 16:36
Christoph Lindner 16:42
Kemi share with us a little bit about how your outreach work intersects with the Bartlett Promise Scholarship Program, as something that's designed to remove some of the financial barriers that get in the way.
Kemi Hassan 16:58
As we know, the Bartlett Scholarship Scheme, covers, you know, tuition fee for the duration of the time they're with us, studying with us, and it also contributes to their maintenance as well. And that's such a big deal. That's such a big thing, that it pretty much covers everything while they're studying with us. And I think for the young people that we work with, a lot of the time over the years, I've always heard that there's the financial aspect is, you know, acts as a deterrent, even though we would always let them know the student loan covers so much and you're not, no one's going to chase you down to pay it back. And you know, how regulated and how, well how the system the loan works, when it's still at as, it's still a deterrent the fact that they believe that it costs so much, it's so expensive to have to pay all that and then move out of home. And so, so many financial barriers, and I do believe that the scholarship is such a covers everything, and that we use that when we have our post-16 sessions, letting them know that this is something available to them. And we know that students, prospective students are interested in hearing about that. And hopefully, it's something that keeps growing in terms of how many students were able to cover over, you know, over the years. And I think it's definitely something that should be pushed, and should-we should continue working towards expanding it to so much more students and hopefully outside even outside of the Bartlett, I think it'd be a great thing. But it definitely helps when we're trying to work with schools and parents even who could also act as a deterrent to let the young people know that that's too much money, there are other alternatives. If parents hear that we have something like the Bartlett Scholarship Scheme that also pushes them to encourage their young people to look into applying and see University and higher education is more of an option then if that that scheme wasn't available for them.
Christoph Lindner 19:06
So it reminds me, because we've been talking in a very serious way about outreach. And on a slightly less serious note, it reminds me of I think it was in The Guardian, but an article that ran some number of months ago that was ranking professions by how elite they were. Was it that or what you know, the way I interpreted like what is the snootiness profession out there. And architecture was the number one on that list. [laughter] And I'm wondering to what extent does a perception out there of architecture and design being an elitist profession, belonging to a very elitist world, how much does that undermine the messages that you're trying to deliver and the opportunities that you're trying to create? And surely that is a perception that we absolutely want to deconstruct and actually remove and replace with a completely alternative vision?
Fiona MacDonald 20:00
[laughing] Well, I think I mean, I think sadly, we can all see where that perception might come from not to say that the whole sector is like that. But sadly, there are those elements. I think it's the biggest way to break down barriers is literally by people meeting and that's where face to face outreach is so important. And we've been really privileged to work with some amazing Bartlett ambassadors students on Design Unlimited. Also engineers from our industry champions, Buro Happold, architects from Jestico + Whiles, who are our architecture industry champions. And I think that a lot of these people come from all around the world, all walks of life, and have amazing energy and enthusiasm. And I hope that that's the lasting memory that many of the children and young people who meet them come away with, is that real kind of generosity of spirit and excitement. And also sometimes I think young people are taken aback by how much that those adults want to know what these young people think, and, and really place huge value on their on their ideas and their thoughts. But another piece, and that's something that we are aware of is, it is becoming more widely known the salaries within the sector, in particular within within architecture. And that is, that is a challenge. And there are there are some cultures and some families who will of course, not not push their young people into, their children into doing architecture in the way that they would be much happier for them to do dentistry or medicine or law. Because of that, that disparity. So when looking at outreach and equity in any sector, I think we have to look at the whole lifecycle of what happens. So it's not only about what are the barriers to entry, but it's also how does your career path continue, because I don't know about Matt and Kemi, but I've got friends who've gone into the profession who are now thinking I'd like to have a family, can't really afford it on my architect salary. And they are looking to not necessarily leave the built environment sector, but they are looking to other parts of the sector in order to be able to fulfill other lifestyle goals and fundamental lifestyle goals, like having a family. And that is that is a serious, serious challenge for the sector as a whole.
Matt Springett 22:16
Yeah, I think those are really those are really important points. I think the other one, I mean, I think I'm an architect by training, there's obviously other other other professions within the built environment that maybe aren't so snooty. And I think that's probably a good thing. So it goes without saying that sort of professions tend to build those walls around them with the language they use and the forms of communication they use. I mean 30 years ago, 35 years ago, I was one of those people that was told that I couldn't do architectures by wanting to do that, and went to art school, and then had an inspired kind of tutor at art school who said, Actually, no, you're spot on, you'd be make a great architect, push for that. And it made that made those introductions to me. And I had that from the point of privilege as a kind of white middle class young teenager, you know, in London going to a state school, but with just the wrong advice. And I see it now, I advise lots of young people who are applying to architecture school, constantly given this advice about about, well level of expectation about what an architecture degree in the UK, will involve. And it's often often the description of that is not something I recognised. And I've taught for a long time in various schools. And it's not something I recognised. I think architectural education in the UK, certainly at degree level is, is such an inclusive, broad education, it should, it should and can be open to so many more.
Christoph Lindner 23:36
So do you find then that with your outreach work, you're not only changing students perceptions of what design and architecture is, but in your engagement with schools, also influencing teachers and their sense of what design education is about?
Matt Springett 23:54
We find that the teachers that we work with are the ones driving that and wanting wanting that. It's it's the structural sort of system around them, which is often the thing that's holding them back. I don't think the the teaching or the workforce within secondary schools is any less ambitious for their pupils. I think, sadly, I think it's a product of kind of governmental drive in the last sort of 10 years or so, you know, away from away from the arts and away from kind of creative curriculum.
Kemi Hassan 24:21
And I have schools reaching out to me on a weekly basis, wanting to see what outreach work we can offer them or sessions or even school trips that we can do. So there are so many teachers out there that want to be involved, that want to push for their young students. I do also agree with what Fiona said that we just have to keep talking and reaching out and working with them. I believe that outreach, working with young people with working with teachers is almost as important, as in directly with the teachers, whether it's doing things like CPD sessions with schools where we have that transparent conversations with teachers and let them know what really what's a degree in the built environment, what that really is like, and, you know, what does what student experience like and then, you know, post graduation all that information, I think we have to work on pushing that to teachers and to young people, and even to parents. I think that will remove all the aspects of you know, elitism and create some kind of a clear line of communication that isn't really there right now, which is why young people see the Bartlett or UCL or even a degree like architecture, and think there's no way that's for them, or that they won't fit in or that they won't be able to handle that if we just continue with the raising of awareness, forming that relationship, we can definitely work into dispelling that that notion.
Theme music 25:54
Christoph Lindner 26:02
So we've talked a lot about how outreach can impact on young people, on schools, on teachers. And I'm wondering for you, how have you been impacted? And how is your thinking about design and architecture changed through working with young people?
Kemi Hassan 26:20
Prior to working at the Bartlett, I didn't think I well I didn't really have much knowledge with regards to the built environment, outside of what everybody else knows, which is probably architecture. And again, even then it's just very basic, very surface. And I've been privileged enough to work with people like Matt and Fiona and so many other organisation, outreach providers, and our academics and students. And I've learned so much from them, you know, so I'm able to kind of use that wealth of knowledge, married with, you know, other aspects of my role, and use that to push the work that we do with schools and with young people, even when I'm not necessarily at work. And I meet people in my personal life who know that I work in education. So I can use that in terms of, you know, informing and passing on the accurate information. So it's definitely been a massive learning opportunity for me and something I look forward to learning so much more about it and kind of creating more space, outreach space in the built environment.
Fiona MacDonald 27:27
I actually remember when, when in the first year of Accelerate with with the first group of young people, we went to visit an architecture practice. And the architects were showing a design of some social housing and saying, so this is how it works. And we designed the access way so it's like this. And one of the young people piped up and said, actually, it doesn't really work like that my aunt lives there but the way you're describing it, that's not what happens in the summer, we all do this. And the architects look genuinely flabbergasted and kind of what?! And then and then realised what a privilege to to have that view. But also, why were they not getting that view? But that that really, I think, both hopefully, for that young person, it really built their confidence to realise, actually, yes, there's there's professional expertise, but there's also lived-in experience expertise. And the two have to go hand in hand to make successful spaces. And that first cohort of young people taking part in that program with the Bartlett some of them are graduating as as architects, which is really exciting to see. So I think just like Kemi says, I find I'm constantly learning any assumptions I think, or I've started to make, tend to get to get pushed aside as soon as we embark on a new project and meet a new group of young people. And now that I think I've, after sort of 15 years of this, I finally realised it's enjoyable to surf that slightly unknown, unknownness. And you don't always need to be fully in control to actually be doing things well and and getting the most from the situation.
Matt Springett 29:04
Working with young people, particularly on projects that lead to real places, or made products forces two things It forces you to slow down into explain why and it's the same, it's the same as the process of teaching, teaching, a young architect forces you to reflect on why you do things, why you operate in the way you do, why you design in the way you do, to explain those processes to others. And I think that that's slowing down to think and articulate your own philosophy, your own processes is a really important important thing of self reflection and growing as a as an individual, as a designer, as an architect, or as any professional I guess, but also that in that slowing down comes, comes pauses and actually opportunities for those who are learning to speak and to share their experiences. So it's through through those through those pauses and through those questions comes discussion. It's coming full circle back to the things both Kemi and Fi have said that it's about communication and open communication. And I think it's that it's that shared communication and listening, doing the work we do with young people has forced me to, to listen in a very different way. And I think that listening - with listening come to learning.
Theme music 30:12
Christoph Lindner 30:18
Now, before I let you go, there's one more question I'd like to ask you. And it's a question that we ask of all of our guests, looking to the future, what is one thing that you think needs to change so we can build better?
Matt Springett 30:32
I think one thing is to make it compulsory, or part of the curriculum of a young architect to to work with, with younger communities that they will serve in future and to to have the experience that some of our architectural students at the Bartlett are having through Design Unlimited, but to make that a kind of critical and essential part of every architect's education.
Christoph Lindner 30:54
Fiona MacDonald 30:55
I think it'd be on on the other side, in schools to ensure that teachers really have the support that they need to be able to give the widest range of opportunities and experiences to their students. And for that to be to be recognized. I'm sure everyone saw an article this weekend that sort of made me quietly cry. A Guardian article said there were findings that museum visits don't change young people's exam grades, sort of implying that young people shouldn't be taken to museums anymore. And I think all I could take from that was well, that says far more about our GCSEs than it does about about our museums and our cultural offer.
Christoph Lindner 31:33
I couldn't agree with you more - couldn't agree with you more. And Kemi, what are your thoughts?
Kemi Hassan 31:38
I think they can in the future definitely look at in house culture and in a sense of changing or improving what our space is like for the students that we want to, that we're inviting in - how are they been received? What's their experience like? Just looking at that and in hopes of improving that and just working more on the student experience when they do come to us.
Christoph Lindner 32:05
Thank you to my guests this month. If this episode has inspired you to get involved, then please go to our website and explore the Bartlett Promise Scholarships. These scholarships are available to undergraduate and postgraduate students and they cover students fees living and study costs for the duration of the degree program. The scholarships are part of a long term project here at the Bartlett for us to attract and support students from a broader range of backgrounds, so we can help tackle the lack of diversity in the built environment sector. To find out more about the scholarships and how to apply you can visit ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/promise.
Christoph Lindner 32:49
You have been listening to Building Better, the Bartlett podcast.
Christoph Lindner 33:04
This episode was presented by myself Christoph Lindner, produced by UCL with support from the Bartlett Communications Team and edited by Cerys Bradley.
Christoph Lindner 33:15
It featured music from Blue Dot Sessions.
Christoph Lindner 33:18
I was joined today by Kemi Hassan, Matthew Springett and Fiona MacDonald. And if you would like to hear more of these podcasts, please subscribe wherever you download your podcasts for visit ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/buildingbetter, and of course you can follow us @theBartlettUCL.
Christoph Lindner 33:41
This podcast is brought to you by The Bartlett, UCL Global Faculty of the Built Environment and UCL Minds, bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise through events, digital content, and activities that are open to everyone. We'll see you next month.