The historical connection of architecture to children or youngsters reaches back to the moment when a child starts to notice its surroundings, when it starts to try how to use space in different ways, starts to think of it and to imagine the daily living area, and think what could be done to improve the living environment. According to the theory of multiple intelligences by developmental psychologist Howard Earl Gardner, there are eight forms of intelligence, one of which is spatial intelligence which manifests itself in the ability to orient in a space and in spatial terms, but also in spatial imagination or in following a map.

In 2011, School of Architecture (Arhitektuurikool) providing extracurricular education in architecture to 7-to-18-year-olds was opened in Estonia. Kadri Klementi and Kaire Nõmme (non-profit organisation MTÜ Ruumiharidus) lead discussions on our living environment and our interaction with it. Participants can create rooms and objects and examine how materials and people behave. Fort building camps take place in the summer. Kadri and Kaire are also responsible for the Kooliruum (in translation: school space) project, where students all over Estonia engage in creative research and play projects using various scientific and design methods in order to examine the modern school and create a new vision thereof.

Photo: Hele-Mai Alamaa

The surroundings, the (urban)landscape influences our thoughts, feelings, physical reactions, whether we are at a meteorite crater or in a cathedral, at a sold out play or on an empty beach, engrossed in our book on a park bench, or at an annoyingly large wannabe-urban but inevitably suburban shopping centre. The prerequisite for creating a better living environment is the ability to notice the connections between our own spatial experience and the scale, nature, milieu, details and characteristics of the surroundings in all its complexity. This ability should be taught early on as a part of a person’s general school education, together with what architects and designers do and what we ourselves can do for the benefit of the living environment, how to recognise and visualise the potential of spatial development and to engage in dialogue on the development of the living environment.
This is why the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Education and Research, non-profit organisation MTÜ Ruumiharidus, Centre of Architecture, and Estonian Design Centre came together to compile two selective courses to the curriculum of upper secondary schools: Architecture as a Living Environment, and the Design Process. Both courses pilot in 2017 in selected schools in Estonia; whereas relevant teacher training starts at the same time. The School of Architecture (Kadri Klementi and Kaire Nõmm) and the Estonian Design Centre (Katre Savi and Merike Rehepapp) contributed substantially to the compilation of the curricula.

As the architecture course provides an introduction to noticing and giving meaning to our daily spatial environment, the design course offers the students a possibility to think and work like a designer. The course on architecture covers scopes and senses, houses and living, constructions and materials, models, cities, and many other subjects in order to find possibilities for changing the surroundings and participating in its development. The course on design teaches, among other things, team work and using design methods, and offers a practical experience of a creative design process. All this is undertaken to develop the students in terms of creative and analytical thinking, and resourcefulness in solving real life issues.

Text by: Veronika Valk, Architecture and Design Adviser at the Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture