My research explores how design effects children’s experience and ability to learn, concentrate and play, in the spatial realities of difficult urban environments such as the informal settlements of Mumbai. It investigates the spatial-axiological, social, political, and psychological conditions of learning focusing on a constructivist educational approach. The research explores at varying scales where design can act generatively and interrogatively in and towards critical-pedagogical situations: How can architecture be considered a ‘third teacher’[i]? It is through the case study of Muktangan in Mumbai, a school that caters for urban poor communities, many living in informal conditions, that this live practice-led research interrogates the architectural and spatial interplays between learning and pedagogy in simultaneously global and local, informal and formal, school and home community contexts.
Developing a collective process where children are included in becoming active citizens through design, the research engages with local cultures, economies and histories whilst examining how the architect can use development practice (Nabeel Hamdi) as a critical pedagogical tool (Paolo Freire). Developing a reciprocal ‘learning architecture’ while improving life-long learning, this research will critically discuss and contextualise Muktangan constructivist education. My research questions focus on challenging the current disconnect between practice and research in the area of pedagogy and architecture, and build on the work of contemporary experimental research strategists such as Stalker, Urbz and Atelier d’Architecture Autogeree. This research aims to demonstrate the value of participatory affordable design through local craft for the making of a more democratic learning city, to influence communities, architects, pedagogy and policy-making.
This research is a live practice-led co-design project; a collective initiative with Muktangan School children to observe, assess critically, and then transform through design and local craft their learning environments; the children are becoming actors in the fabrication/transformation of their urban realm.
The practice intertwines a scholarly and reflective study of how design, pedagogy, urbanism and development practice interact, and an active practice-led participatory research methodology to engage the learning community in identifying and acting upon learning situations. Oscillating between design and writing, the research is structured in such a way that each active project, with a designed and realised output, is followed by a period of reflection and analysis.
The development of a series of experimental design sessions with Muktangan Lovegrove school includes pupils in critically assessing their environment: They begin with a focus on the school building and classroom, later then spreading into the home territory, informal settlement Mariamma Nagar.
It is the role of the architect to plan, organize and facilitate sessions along with class teachers: the methodology was developed to complement school curriculum, carefully gaging means, language and pace to suit 9-13 year olds. The architect/facilitator plans each design session, to optimally channel learning/design, input/output, required exploration and preparation, both in the physical and pedagogical realms. An exercise of building a knowledge base of local material resources and local crafts defines the pool of activities that can architecturally define the project outputs.
Most recent outcomes
The most recent part of the research responds to learning situations outlined earlier during the mapping project in the home environment, through a series of sessions with the class. Sessions provided children with a means to define design briefs and respond with designed and built objects/installations. They explored their home settlement and identified themes to which to respond: Mosquitos, open gutters, rubbish and recycling, more trees and fighting and bad language. Sessions spanned exploring on site, documenting with cameras, choosing design themes, interviewing inhabitants on the chosen topics, outlining which crafts were local to the settlement, pairing themes with materials and fabricators, designing responses, building initial prototypes, re-assessing the preliminary designed objects, re-designing the objects through annotated drawing techniques, liaising with fabricators, and finally presenting designs to inhabitants and the general public in-situ.
The exhibition 'a learning architecture' held at the G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Mumbai was accompanied by a seminar where participants from the NGO, education and design communities in Mumbai were be invited to share knowledge and feedback on the method and project so far, with an aim to tailoring a toolkit to reproduce the project in other schools.
[i] Carolyn Edwards, Leila Gandini, George Forman, The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia experience in transformation, Praeger 3rd edition, 2012, p149