Pillar of the community: Architect builds future with new kids on the block

Award-winning architectural practice Stephen George + Partners has successfully launched a trailblazing course to get schoolchildren excited by the built environment and thinking about architecture as a career.

The course – ‘Architecture and Sustainability – looking to the future’ –  rose out of the practice’s long commitment to sustainability, social values, and community engagement.  A major first for UK schools, it has been hailed as a resounding success by teachers in Barnet where it was piloted.

Following the successful trial at St Mary’s and St John’s (SMSJ) in Barnet, the Leicester-based practice plans to put the course on curriculums elsewhere, starting with New College Leicester in Leicester who began the course last week, and following that Leeds where the practice also has offices.

The course was adapted for schools from the ‘Brief Cases’ initiative – which brings education and the world of work closer together.  While that model is already used in universities, this course marks the first time it has been used in a school setting, reaching out early to engage children.

Mark Smith, Director at Stephen George + Partners, played a leading role in delivering lessons and giving the Barnet Year 7s direct and personal feedback from a senior member of the profession.  Some sixty 11- and 12-year-olds participated in the course, presenting ideas, making group pitches, and designing mock-ups of planet-friendly homes including solar and hydroelectric power, heat pumps, and waste management.

Mark Smith said “At Stephen George + Partners we recognise that we’ve got a role to play in shaping ideas. We want to interest young people in how architecture affects the environment and also how they can be part of it, caring for the planet through design decisions.  We’re highlighting the breadth of opportunity in the sector. Architecture isn’t only for people who can draw. There’s everything from mechanical engineering and project management to roles in marketing and human resources. This programme helps students to see that.”

The 10-week course revealed talents among the pre-teen students in Barnet, including original engineering ideas, ingenious designs and new concepts on how waste materials could be used to power homes of the future.

SMSJ’s Head of Design and Technology, Philippa Wimberley, said: “From the very beginning, we were clear that SMSJ wanted to be involved with Stephen George + Partners, and Brief Cases. The students have absolutely loved making and designing their model homes, particularly as they’ve seen television programmes such as Grand Designs; and here they are, as students, designing and building their very own model version.”