Architects At Play was honoured to present for Building Equity in Architecture on the Prairies. BEA Prairies is a new regional initiative to promote equity and diversity in city-building professions through advocacy, mentorship, and networking. BEA Prairies aims to support, celebrate, and connect women in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, the construction industry, and interior design.
Before we introduced ourselves, like always, we played a quick game with the attendees. We put them into a starting position (in this case, lying on the floor) and then asked them to do a series of activities. It was just like “Simon Says”, except they actually had to do everything we ask them to do. Here is what we asked:
You’re lying in bed, sleeping.
The alarm goes off, and you get up.
Head to the kitchen, and fix yourself something to eat.
Go to the bathroom to brush your teeth and fix your hair.
Head to the closet to change.
Head out the door to your car/bike.
Drive to work.
You get to work, and sit down.
We told the attendees that we’d come back to this a little later, but first, we talked a little bit about who we are and what we do. In particular, we highlighted the ways we are using play to educate people about design.
MFBC & the LEGO® Challenge:
Over the past year, community engagement has played a large role in our business, but beyond the monetary donations and physical involvement, we knew, right from the very beginning, that educating children, students, and the general public about what we do as designers was very important to us, and we realized that we might be able to accomplish this through play.
In November of last year, we got the chance to test out this theory. We were invited by the Manitoba Filipino Business Council (MFBC) to take part in their First Annual Trade Show. For those of you that have been to a trade show, you know that you walk into a large room, where business have tables and booths with posters, pamphlets, and products, and a person trying to explain to you what they do. We wanted to bring something more to the show. We want to bring an activity, which people could do in a short period of time, that we could use to explain what we do as architects. And that was when we introduced our 5-minute LEGO® Design Challenge. We then showed the BEAP attendees a video of the Trade Show.
The MFBC Trade Show and the LEGO® Challenge were huge successes for us because they gave us an opportunity to demonstrate what we do on a day-to-day basis in design. For example, if somebody complained about not having enough pieces, we could have a conversation about limited resources, whether they be human or material. If somebody complained about not having enough time, we could talk to them about how we deal with timelines and how to mitigate risks associated with deadlines. Or if somebody complained about not being able to come up with ideas, we could talk to them about how we overcome creative “writer’s block”.
Building off the success of the Trade Show, we were given a second opportunity to test our LEGO® Challenge when my son’s teacher, invited parents to come into the class to teach the students about what they do in their careers. Since we just finished the trade show, we figured this was a great time to test our theory with children. We were able to create a memorable teaching moment for the kids by providing an elevated experience in the classroom, giving them some insight into what we do as architects, providing a direct connection with the industry, and because they were allowed to take the LEGO® home, we gave them something they could be proud of and show their parents.
We also learned something that day. We learned about the power of diversity and divergent thinking from one student named Alvin. Alvin brought a very unique perspective to the LEGO® Challenge; He had never played with LEGO® before. Now, before you feel sorry for Alvin, let me tell you what he was able to do. He was given the challenge of designing a playground, so while the other students started stacking their pieces together, Alvin simply put the pieces beside each other in a sort of landscape. Because there were spaces in between the pieces, you could imagine that, once scaled up, the spaces would be great for a game of hide-and-seek or grounders. So, that day we learned that the most amazing ideas can come from the most unlikely of places.
Murdoch Mackay and sTeam:
Building on the success of the LEGO® Challenge, we were given the opportunity to expand our educational outreach offerings to a local high school. Murdoch Mackay school in Transcona was starting up a STEAM program (STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), and they invited us in to introduce design thinking and the design process to their students. We brought in our LEGO® Challenge, but we also wanted to bring in another challenge that could go deeper into the design process. We showed BEAP attendees another video showing our Empathy Challenge. The Empathy Challenge was another huge success for us, as it allowed us to take people through almost the entire design process, from ideation to prototyping and testing. In the future we’d like to build on this concept of using play to bring people insight about the design process, which brought us back to the game we asked the attendees to play earlier. We asked the attendees to reflect on the game a little bit, while we asked them a few questions. We didn’t expect them to answer them right then; we just wanted them to think about their responses. Here are the questions we asked:
When you got out of bed, did you take your blanket off?
Did you turn on the lights?
Did you put on slippers or a bathrobe?
Did you take the cap off the toothpaste?
Did you open a cabinet or closet?
Where did you put your clothes?
When you left for work, did you lock the door behind you?
Did you even grab your keys?
When you were on your way to work, did you stop?
By playing a simple game, we put the attendees into an uncomfortable position by asking them to think about common activities in a new way. In doing so, we made them aware of some fo the little details in their life that might otherwise go unnoticed. In essence, by putting their minds into a state of play, they became open to moments of insight that might be just that – fleeting moments of insight – or, they might become opportunities for critical thinking, creativity, and design.
For us, getting to this playful state of mind is the challenge we set up for ourselves every day in our practice as Architects At Play.
Thank you to the BEA Prairies organizing team for inviting us to present. We were honoured that you chose to highlight our little firm and give us a platform for promoting play!