FOJAB's architecture educator raises children's voices

Three years ago, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child became Swedish law. In her role as an architect and architecture educator at FOJAB, Kristina Kember puts words into action and empowers children to influence their local environment:
- This involves both increase interest in architecture among children and young people and give them tools to use their influence.

What is an architecture educator?

- An architectural educator is an architect with knowledge of working with children and young people, who can act as a link between schools and preschools and those who plan and design. There are many different ways to work with children's dialogue, such as analysis and reflection, creativity, exploration with all their senses and democratic processes. The aim is to give children the tools to express their opinions and to participate in influencing their living environment.

Why are architectural educators needed?

- Since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child became Swedish law in 2020, children's legal influence over the local environment has been strengthened, but for the child's perspective to really have an impact, we adults need to prioritize and work actively with these issues. In dialogue work, we need to find a common language so that adults and children together can talk about and investigate how they experience a room or a place in the city, for example.

- At FOJAB, we have developed methods for involving users early in the process and have good experience of dialoguing with schools. Working directly with children and young people is important but also very fun and we learn a lot in the process.

Why are children's perspectives important when planning and building?

- Of course, it is particularly important to take care of a group that cannot make its voice heard. When cities are densified, green spaces and public places are scarce in the development process. Children who may not have much space at home are particularly affected by the lack of social spaces. We must also be vigilant in ensuring that school and preschool playgrounds are not reduced in size and think about how to create environments that are safe, that inspire joy of movement and provide space to play freely.

What exactly do you do as an architectural educator?

- One example of my role as an architectural educator was the new school in Mörrum, which FOJAB designed. A few months after the opening, we met with the students to hear their thoughts on their new environment. We wanted to get their views on what works and what doesn't, whether they had suggestions for improvements, and how they experience and use different parts of their school. For two days we met with students from grades 1, 3 and 6. We did various exercises and talked about everything from form and function, light and acoustics to choice of materials, experience and feeling.

What did you learn?

- We encountered great enthusiasm from the children to share their different experiences and were really impressed by how insightfully they analyzed their surroundings. The direct feedback from the children will help us to ensure what we have done right, but also to understand what we can do differently - things we would not have thought of without the help of the pupils. Another goal was to increase children's curiosity about architecture and create positive feelings about how to use their influence.

What else is in the pipeline?

- In addition to my involvement in the Swedish Architects' Council for Architecture and Children, we at FOJAB have just started a collaboration with Möllevångsskolan, one of our closest neighbors here at the Malmö office. In the fall, we will meet high school students, where architects and students will guide each other and where we will work with different places in our common environment. The hope is that the students' ideas will lead to suggestions for improvement and actual changes.