Air pollution has a particularly damaging effect on children. They’re still growing and breathe faster than adults do. They also live closer to the ground, where the most polluting gases from vehicles accumulate. Pollution from traffic has been linked to problems with brain development, stunted growth, respiratory conditions, cancers and 300,000 child deaths worldwide.
Children themselves are far from oblivious to all this. The school climate strikes show that young people are forcing air pollution and the climate crisis to the top of the political agenda. The strikes tell us that children demand a platform to challenge pollution in their environment. Unable to voice their concerns in school, they are forced to take radical action. What if instead there was a way to work with children in tackling air pollution and climate change?
Through my research, I look for ways that we can give children the tools, the skills and the confidence to affect change in the cities they live in. With the help of teachers and my colleagues in Open Lab, we’ve come up with Sense Explorers, a toolkit of activities and resources to involve young people in transforming places and the environment.
And this summer, I’ll be delivering four free Sense Explorers workshops with Seven Stories! As part of each workshop, we’ll be exploring spaces around the Ouseburn. Using some digital tools we’ll be collecting data about air pollution, and we’ll also be asking young people to think about what their own five senses are telling them. Can they see or hear what may be causing pollution?
Then looking at this data, we’ll be asking our Sense Explorers to think about what they would do to make the Ouseburn better. I can’t wait to see what ideas they come up with!
Here’s a video about our Sense Explorers workshops at Seven Stories:
Sessions like Sense Explorers help children to learn about the future, what it holds for them, and how they can make it better. We should be showing them what they can – and should – do to make their cities less polluted places.
Urban planners and politicians are often hesitant to work with children, but they shouldn’t be – we need to embrace their creativity and passion to take radical action on air pollution and climate change. More now than ever, we need the original ideas that only children can bring.
Thanks Sean, and to The Conversation for allowing us to republish this content. The four Sense Explorers workshops are now fully booked. We are considering adding some extra sessions so do book on our waiting list (available on the event booking page) and we will let you know if spaces become available.
How can cultural organisations collaboratively develop immersive digital experiences? And how can ideas about space and place in magical realism inform more creative approaches to designing augmented reality technologies?
Many organisations in the cultural sector recognise that expanding digital capacity is a priority, but they are limited by funding, time and staff expertise to support this. The #CultureIsDigital 2018 report advocates for design-orientated digital thinking ‘to unleash the creative potential of technology’ and collaborating with technology partners is often seen as a solution for a lack of in-house resources.
In late 2017, Google and Apple had released new augmented reality features that allowed much more complicated interactions with real space on mobile phones. We wanted to explore whether magical realism, a literary genre that plays with the boundaries between real and imaginary spaces, could inspire new creative approaches to these new technical developments.
Seven Stories had recently acquired David Almond’s literary archive. An award-winning author of children’s and young adult books, David’s work explores ambiguous and confusing crossovers between worlds; past and present, everyday and mythical. We used this as our starting point to explore how researchers, museum professionals, digital designers, children and young people could inform new kinds of spatial interactions for AR. We wanted to experiment with a sustainable and collaborative approach to digital R&D in the context of cultural organisations.
From June to December 2018, Tom and Kim worked with Diego Trujillo Pisanty, a researcher and media artist, and Seven Stories. We led six creative workshops, some as part of the 2018 Great Exhibition of the North programme, engaging around 80 participants. During the Great Exhibition, Seven Stories delivered an artistic trail around the Ouseburn Valley featuring new writing by David Almond, and a major exhibition, ‘Where Your Wings Were’ focusing on his archive.
In the workshops, we wanted to create open environments where people could explore experimental ideas. Each workshop had a separate focus, but aimed to explore creative analogies to immersive technology – ideas of other worlds, magic, the fantastic and interdimensional – to inform the design of the app, and enhance our understanding of the value of spaces and places within David Almond’s work.
From the creative ideas generated in the workshops, we designed and built a smartphone app, Magical Reality, which leads you on a trail to find AR objects around the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle. Research Associate Diego led the technical development and it’s now available on Android and iOS platforms. The app uses AR technology to embed digital artefacts, developed from archive materials held at Seven Stories. We used an experimental and collaborative design approach to see how the knowledge and imaginative ideas of the different parties involved in the project could inform the development.
Here’s a video of the app in action:
There were many interesting things we learnt from evaluating this project, which was supported by Research Associate Dr Gabi Arrigoni; not least that the stakeholders involved consider innovation very differently. For the research team, the creative process informing the app was seen as the most significant contribution to the field; Seven Stories valued new ways of engaging with their audiences and connecting archive material to places; whereas digital professionals were interested in digital innovation around the app’s use of AR.
As Vital North Partnership Manager, one of the things I found most fascinating was seeing different kinds of knowledge and experience being brought together through the four workshops I took part in, and the way in which the research team created open spaces for knowledge exchange. I also really valued the way that this project moved beyond transactional digital commissioning and towards more experimental and open-ended R&D within a museum setting, which mirrors some of the processes Seven Stories uses as we develop our programmes and exhibitions.
Since we finished our work on Children’s Magical Realism for New Spatial Interactions: AR and Archives in December, we’ve been busy! Firstly, Dr Tom Schofield and Professor Kim Reynolds have been busy working on academic outputs. Kim has given a paper on ‘Augmenting Almond’ at the University of Western Australia, and will be presenting this project in June in Berlin, and October at the University of Buckingham. Tom will be presenting a paper as part of Designing Interactive Systems 2019 in June in San Diego – as one of the most prestigious conferences for interaction design in the world, we’re very excited!
Secondly, Tom and Seven Stories were successful in a bid for AHRC Follow on Funding for an extension project, Embedding Magic: AR and Outreach. This will extend the work we began our original workshops by developing these into a programme that Seven Stories’ Creative Learning and Engagement team will be delivering with Research Associate Dr Miranda Iossifidis in the East End of Newcastle, empowering children and young people to connect with the places and spaces within their community. We’re also planning a short series of workshops for cultural and digital organisations to present this collaborative process in early summer. Watch this space!
Have you ever considered how the design of spaces can help children learn and explore? In this blog post, Daniel Goodricke provides an overview of the research project, ‘Children in the Archive and the City: Collaborative Practice with Seven Stories’.
The project investigates how children interact with museum, archive and reading spaces, as well as the broader context of the city, and explores how spaces could be reimagined with and for children and young people. The investigation aims to:
identify changes that can be made to the Seven Stories’ spaces to bring children’s books to a broader demographic
develop and test a series of possible design scenarios and alternative configurations of museum, archive and reading spaces to further encourage children and young people to interact with Seven Stories’ Collection
propose changes that can be made to both physical and digital spaces in order to bring maximum benefit to people of the North East, as well as national and international stakeholders.
As an architect and educator, I was motivated to undertake this research project following my experience as part of multi-disciplinary teams responsible for the design and delivery of centrally-funded secondary school projects as part of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) and Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP). Whilst the programmes were commendably ambitious; tasking school governors, principals, staff, local communities and, even, the pupils themselves with developing an ‘educational vision’, the projects often soon reverted to more normative and routine production modes.
Acknowledging end users as experts in their own experience, this project positions children and young people at the centre of the design process by means of a series of co-design workshops. Employing creative research tools, such as body mapping, illustrated writing and sensory collage, each workshop endeavours to gain a better understanding of children and young people’s current experiences of Seven Stories spaces across a range of scales including their interactions with books, ‘nooks and crannies’, archive, building, and the city. The Finnish-born American architect, Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950) admonished designers to:
“[a]lways consider a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”
The workshops, supported by continued creative dialogue, will also begin to articulate the goals, priorities and values of stakeholders, providing participants with a direct involvement in the decision making of architectural proposals. In respect of the latter, I recently attended a series of three linked seminars on the theme of Architecture and Education – specifically how architecture may be used to express educational aims and values – held at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. I hope to elaborate on some of the presented ideas with reference to my project in a subsequent blog post.
Professor Sir Christopher Frayling’s highly influential paper, Research in Art and Design (1993), categorised the varying relationships between research and design (or, architecture) as constituting one of either, ‘into’, ‘for’ or ‘through’ the discipline. This project adopts a ‘through’ approach as it utilises the design process as a methodology in order to undertake the research investigation itself. Such as approach also provides participants, particularly children and young people (given how little emphasis is placed on architecture within the National curriculum), with a relatively unique experience, knowledge and understanding of architecture and the built environment around them, as well as the skills and confidence to become involved in debates surrounding it within their own communities. The Ouseburn Trust, including the now amalgamated Ouseburn Futures, have long engaged residents, workers and visitors to the Valley in influencing what happens there and shaping the regeneration process.
The findings of the project will culminate in the production of a design brief, developed through the close dialogue with representatives of Seven Stories, end users, neighbouring communities and other stakeholders. The brief will assist in articulating Seven Stories’ capital ambition of a new permanent and accessible home in Newcastle, as it aims to establish itself as an international centre of excellence for children’s literature, by defining the scope and outlining the deliverables of any future capital development project.