There’s a new group of architects looking up at our city with fresh, bright eyes. They’re interested in changing the way people move through the streets, the way new buildings go up, and the way people get around. They’ve got hundreds of new ideas, and they’re ambitious as ever. Oh, and they’re between the ages of eight to 12.
Welcome to Harbourfront Centre’s architecture camp, a place for the curious, urban interested kids to explore city designs and systems. The camp teaches children about the structure of cities and the reasons behind the way they’re built, before encouraging them to build their own. Ten-year-old Paola says she was interested in the camp because she’s interested in new houses that are going up around the city.
“I like designing houses and streets and where everything goes,” she says. “And it’s just a lot of fun to build your own city and be like ‘This is my city, this is where City Hall goes.’”
The children had the opportunity to build an entire metropolis out of found and supplied materials (cardboard boxes, Lego, wooden sticks, etc.) that sprawled over pushed-together tables. It included everything from government buildings to a water system to a tourist destination circus. Streets were created using different colours of painter’s tape. Spacing popped in one afternoon to give the kids a lesson in wayfinding, getting the group to think of the most creative way to guide people around their city. Ideas were fantastic, ranging from large, colourful balloons leading the way to the museum to universal signs as simple as arrows, to touch-screens projected on to the ground where tapping your foot on the desired “button” would show you the path to your destination. There was an unlimited budget, and definitely unlimited imagination.
The camp is for children specifically interested in the way their cities are built. With field trips to places such as the University of Toronto, the kids get the chance to see examples of designs they’re implementing in their own city. The camp focuses on decision making and problem solving as well as design. This year, two camps are being done in two-week stints, allowing time for creative thinking as well as workshops on architectural styles and materials. And, of course, there’s even time for guest appearances.
Ten-year-old Graydon says he learned a lot from Spacing’s wayfinding lesson.
“It’s important because without it you can’t get around the city,” he says. “And if you’re visiting here, you’ll get lost and never be able to get home.”
The camp’s workspace was impressively chaotic — mind maps lined the walls, full of brainstorming about the types of buildings in a city, other elements that make up cities, and what their own city would contain. While some children said subways signs were sometimes confusing, the majority of them agreed that Toronto has a pretty good wayfinding layout.
Nine-year-old Ben says, simply, “I think we have a really good system.”