This co-designed work lab with children attempted to develop critical thinking by children on public space matters.
What does a child think of public space? What are their opinions, what do they like or dislike, and do they have a voice to articulate this? The 5 day workshop aimed to explore some of these questions by working with a group of children, aged 6 to 11 years old, and experimenting with a variety of pedagogical and design techniques such as non-linear structures of adaptability, deconstructing the pedagogue, and radical play. A number of tools were experimented with, most notably a self documenting sculpture collectively christened Mr. Wiels. This sculpture fostered inward and outward reflection on the children’s experience of the public sphere through being constantly co-created vis-à-vis discussions on and experiences of public space. The sculpture was constructed, both physically and ontologically by the children, using common materials, stories, and dialogues, which resulted in a co-constructed character, complete with passport, life story and personal interests. As the children created and subsequently toured Mr. Wiels through the streets of Brussels, they relayed their narratives of city-life, objects, memories, moments, questions and so forth to him, exploring their own lives through the artefact and with each other. The shared artefact mediated the individual and communal experience, taking the attention away from the designer/pedagogue by allowing the artefact to guide the process. This provided a rich experience for the children as well as a repository of data to be used by design researchers looking at child-centred design.
The co-designed work lab aimed to:
- understand children's values of play, freedom and appropriation in public space;
- make children critical and eager to propose new and alternative ideas for public space (a.o. play activities);
- empower children as active citizens in public space, as critical thinkers and active contributors to the design process of public space.
The role of the researcher was to:
- learn how to empower and involve children's participation in a (co-)design process;
- create and test participatory methods related to co-design, role play, walking and cultural probes;
- reflect on matters that concern participation with children.
This five-day work lab took place in October 2014 and was hosted by WIELS, Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels. It was organised by Annelies Vaneycken, designer-researcher, and accompanied by Michael Kaethler, sociologist and part of the TRADERS research team (KULeuven). Eleven children, aged 6 to 11 years old participated.