Ruth Gorse Design Day

Occasionally an opportunity comes along where you are able to share your passion for architecture with a younger generation. The chance to open students’ eyes, minds and hearts to the built environment around them, for them to realise that they are able to positively impact their surroundings through design for the betterment of their community.

Mark Sidding recently took up the offer of working with a group of 16 year 7,8 and 9 students at the Ruth Gorse Academy in Leeds. Supported by the RIBA Architecture Ambassadors scheme, we worked alongside the academy and The Tetley, a centre for contemporary art at the heart of Leeds’ South Bank, who kindly offered to be the client, to create a design day.

The goal of The Royal Institute of Architects’ scheme is ‘to inspire within the young a lasting appreciation, enjoyment and understanding of the places and spaces they inhabit’. The intention of the design day is to take the students outside of their regular school pattern and place them at the heart of a design competition; following a design process, working collaboratively on a design solution, and presenting, as a team, their final designs to both the client and their peers. Further incentive is provided through the mechanism of chocolate awarded to the winning team.

Having previously led workshops with primary school pupils to design new schools, the expectation of working with older students required more detailed planning and greater consideration of learning outcomes from the day. Several planning meetings were held with Sarah at the academy, detailing a programme of timed activities from an initial site visit, data collection through to design development and final presentation of their schemes.

The brief was; to design a new cultural centre as an extension to the existing Tetley building. The final design must complement the existing uses in the building and significantly enhance this part of Leeds.

On a rare balmy July morning the teams met in the lounge area of the Tetley, where they were introduced to the day and briefed by the client. Tours around both inside and outside the building followed, where the students collected data, took photos and had a lesson in observing context and detail.

The short walk back to the academy was full of excited discussion around design solutions, thoughts and ideas on what their new building will look and feel like, how it will work with what’s already there, and who will draw which part of the building when they get back to class.

The art room was laid out with access to different media including access to the internet and printers. The design session was split into 3 sections; site appraisal, option studies and final design and presentation. It soon became clear that the teams just wanted to plough straight through to the final design and presentation section; however they were encouraged to consider the context of their designs and research precedents for their ideas.

Fever pitch was reached around 2pm as teams were asked to start tidying their spaces, finalise their presentations and agree team order and what to say. Models were poised, drawings carefully placed and words rehearsed.  Chocolate was placed on display as the client returned to hear the amazing and inspired design solutions, and somehow pick a winning design for the Tetley.

Ideas flowed; from a huge ‘T’ turned on its side, to a 40 storey arts tower, outside BBQ spaces, and light shafts allowing coloured light to filter through the heart of the building. Art which prescribed the colour of the building which would change and evolve with each exhibition, sky gardens and glass elevators. To say that we were impressed with the creative imaginations in such a short space of time is an understatement. The winning design both answered the brief but significantly enhanced many of the client’s thoughts and ideas, and out of all of the designs presented was the one we believed would actually be the most viable if the Tetley were ever to be extended.

Quite often you can leave a venue after a day of being all enthusiastic about one of your passions and be deflated. Whether it’s the relief that it’s all over after all that planning, or coming down from all that energy you’ve just exerted. Either way the one question that always crosses your mind is if we have made a difference. Sometimes you get great feedback from the teachers, sometimes it’s just a thank you and you never really know. As we were leaving the main entrance one of the students made a b line for us, and half embarrassed half shy shared her joy, excitement, delight and thankfulness at the opportunity of being involved in the design day.

We would like to think that every Architect had a moment when they realised the significantly positive impact our profession can contribute to creating community, which then spurred them on through the years at University. My hope is that we have made a difference to at least one student at Ruth Gorse Academy who in turn will be inspired to ‘light up the world’ through great design

Sarah Johnston, Lead teacher of Art at The Ruth Gorse Academy added, “The design day was absolutely fantastic! Both the students and staff really enjoyed the site visit, explaining that they enjoyed looking at architecture in a completely different light. During the design process it was clear that the students found Mark to be very approachable and were happy and confident in discussing their ideas with him. The day left them inspired and one student in particular has expressed that architecture is now a career path they are interested in pursuing. I believe the project was extremely beneficial for the students and would hope to continue the project again next year…I have asked for it to be in the school calendar already!”