Workshop ‘Children as Design Partners’: Experience From Cairo

The Project and its Scope

Ezbet El Nasr is an informal area in Cairo, Among others, in need of drastic changes for better life conditions. Five Masters students engaged with a participatory design project with the youngest actor in the area: The children.

The school complex and the area around is considered as a main attraction point, as it is almost the only facility existing in the area. Children head towards the school daily from all over the area and from outside neighborhood of Ezbet Elnasr, the same for the teachers. Besides, it is near the entrance to the area from the Autostrad and close to the newly under construction Youth center and the newly constructed market space, which indicates that the area is potentially going to be more of an attraction point.

‘Children as design partner’ is a participatory Design project in Al Shaheed Muhammad Al-Durrah in Ezzbet Al-Nasr. It aimed at enhancing the streetscape in front of the school. Beyond its physical achievement, the main goal was involving school children in visualizing and changing their space. Rote learning is the common learning system observed in the school. The children in Ezzbet Al-Nasr, lack opportunities in creativity and design exercises due to the the limited educational staff.

ENasr

Fig1:School children in Ezbet el Nasr

Project Phases

A.Advertising, Partnering and building the network

Sensitizing children to the spatial dimension is an important step to ameliorate the situation in Ezzbet Al-
Nasr. Targeting the school is a trigger event to such initiatives in the area to give space to the youngest actor in the area to be active in their school and neighborhood.
Switching from an academic proposal to a real implementation needed to build a network of field experts in addition to volunteers. The first step was understanding and interviewing some experts in such kind of workshops. In addition, partnering and creating a network were key factors for the success of the different proposed activities.

Fagnoon and ECHO junior are two active organisms in art and design workshops. They helped with their expertise designing and implementing the workshop stages.

B.Stimulating and Designing

The workshop had two main phases. The goal of the first phase was to introduce the children to creativity through free drawing and hand crafts sessions.
The second phase which is the design phase was to elaborate their vision of the street in front of their school. They had the possibility to design and re-visualize the streetscape.

Three-dimensional visualization permitted to the children to assimilate better their space and translate their ideas. Models were created and to implement their visions. Through magazine photos and designed elements ( trees…), the children created their proposals including solutions for existing problems in the street such as garbage, lack of greenery, traffic…

Each group was assisted by a member of the team work to facilitate communication and help in implementing ideas in addition to stimulate discussions regarding different problems and the possibilities of change.

Fig2: Models are the support for the designs

Fig3:Participants work in groups to elaborate their ideas

C.Sharing and discussing

The last phase of the workshop was an open discussion platform. Each group presented its work, justified its choices and main ideas and answered the questions of their fellows. Introducing a discussion session with school children took time to get implemented. However, the discussions at the end were rich and very inspiring. The participants had the opportunity to present and discuss their ideas. This session could be a start point to a future participation in the neighborhood social life.
The workshop is a fast track project aiming at stimulating more actions in the area through partnering the school teachers and associations in the implementation process. It helped in transferring and sharing knowledge; In addition to opening the participants to new activities.
The project implementation faced several challenges. First, working in a public school in bureaucratic institutional environment could stop the whole process. The group couldn’t have permission from the central institution ministry. But local initiative of the school director helped in facilitating the process.
Inevitably, different complexities in informal areas related to leadership, social and political disparities are main challenges. Far from these conflicts, children could be the strongest partner for long term change. In addition, civil society remains a central key for change in such conditions. Starting this project opened the area to new associations to take part and participate to boost the change path.

 

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