Building Experiences

Summer Learning and Adult Training

Opportunities in Design & The Built Environment

For tomorrow’s designers, planners, architects, engineers and community leaders.


This Briefing Paper promotes the use of Summer School projects for young learners who will become the designers, planners, architects, engineers and community leaders of tomorrow. The Briefing Paper illustrates two examples of work in line with these national educational developments. Our work in this area recognises that opportunities for extra-curricular, after-school and holiday-learning can enhance and enrich school-learning in ways beyond those available in the day-to-day work of schools. Our work also recognises the need for adult training in activities that can provide these enriching experiences.

The content of this Briefing Paper is based upon the work of Building Experiences in developing a successful week-long course for The Tower Hamlets Summer University, and acting as Adult-Trainer for a 3-day course for teachers and architects. The latter was the result of a Royal Society / British Association Millennium Award.

Tower Hamlets Summer University - building aspiration.

The Tower Hamlets Summer University has a deserved, national reputation for being at the forefront in promoting and providing quality opportunities for learning to young people aged 14-25. Building Experiences has worked extensively in Tower Hamlets over the past 2 ½ years, where it has carried out extensive programmes of workshops and projects, working with well over 2500 schoolchildren and their teachers. Building Experiences was invited submit a proposal in design and the built environment to offer as a learning opportunity in the context of The Summer University’s aims:

  • To promote independent learning

  • To raise achievement

  • To promote racial tolerance

  • To increase access to educational and vocational opportunities through creative partnerships with the statutory and voluntary sectors, business and industry

  • To involve young people in the organisation’s development

Changing Buildings – Designs for The Future

The Summer University Course gave the participants an opportunity to work as a group to arrive at the possible use and designs for a derelict building in The Borough. Their work was represented in 2D and 3D forms and focussed on a large-scale model for the building. The framework for the model was especially designed and created to enhance and promote individual and group effort. The management of the learning process was designed with similar intentions. The approach to the management of learning can be summarised quite simply by, "the sum of the parts is greater than the whole".


The aims of The Tower Hamlets Summer University fit well with the purpose of Building Experiences that has as a core concern the need to create and provide opportunities for young people to enact principles of citizenship through the involvement in our surroundings. We believe this is an important ingredient in the preparation for adult life.

The more opportunities there are for young people to engage with others on matters to do with the built environment, then the greater is the likelihood that our educational systems can turn out adults who have both the confidence, interest and desire to become involved in their communities at a local level.

The potential of our surroundings – our built environment – to act as a vehicle for active citizenship is enormous.


The week-long course introduced the students to principles, ideas and materials related to sustainable communities and buildings – especially those undergoing renovation. A visit to Construction Resources - a large collection of materials, and equipment housed in a building south of The Thames in SE1 - gave the students a good idea of a selection of sustainable materials and their application. The experience of the visit helped sow the seeds that, in changing our surroundings, we don’t always have to look to the past. Engaging young talent and exposing them to new ideas is part of the management of any learning process, the object of which is to expand the imagination and to build aspiration.

A Model for Community Participation

In seeking to forward its work, Building Experiences has the following as one of its objectives,

To ensure that these opportunities are designed, implemented and managed in a fashion which results in sustainable growth and development for the groups / individuals / organisations / networks with whom we work.

In the case of Changing Buildings - Designs for The Future, Building Experiences was able to link up with members of The Society of Black Architects, who supported the course throughout the week. Chris Nasah of KNAK Designs and a leading figure for SOBA, summarised, the general feeling amongst his colleagues as follows:

“SOBA members really enjoyed taking part in this Summer University and we feel it is the sort of thing we would want to become more involved with in the future. The content and the management of the learning process by Building Experiences, working with a wide range of interests and abilities, afforded opportunities for all to grow and learn through the week. A measure of its success was highlighted for me, when unsolicited, one of the youngest participants phoned my practice the week after requesting a ‘work experience’ opportunity prior to his return to school in September. We naturally obliged. The model for participation designed by Building Experiences offers an excellent approach for building aspirations and engaging our next generation of would-be designers, architects and engineers. It is also a valid approach for community capacity building and general public participation.”

Student Evaluations

I really enjoyed this course as it furthered my knowledge of my favourite interest – architecture. It also gave me an opportunity to understand further some of the fundamental rules of economics. The course has been informative, and has made a big impression on me as a person. It gave me reasons to appreciate London and the opportunities within it. I’ve made new friends and gained new experiences.

The course leader was a good mentor and the architects showed me a lot about the profession.

Morgan Derrick Mia, aged 14

What I got from taking part was:

  • Developing further skills in the design process

  • Working as a team

  • Communicating and compromising on design ideas

  • Learning about sustainable materials

  • Meeting new people

  • Contact with SOBA

Bao Luong, Art Student aged 20

Before the course I thought that I was a patient person who took care about the wishes and feelings of people for whom I am going to design or plan buildings and objects for. However, now I have the feeling that I have become far more patient and am more aware about the feelings and the ways of working with people of other ages and with different knowledge.

Kim Wang, Student of Architecture aged 25


Adult Training for Extra-Curricular,
After-School and Holiday Learning


The response, over the past 2½ years, to our work in Tower Hamlets has been very positive. We have worked in the majority of its primary and secondary schools, linking closely with its Education Business Partnership. Our Schools Workshop Programme, together with specific projects with some schools, have been enjoyed and experienced by some 3,000 children embracing all Key Stages. This response from teachers, their children and students, together with the attraction of a Millennium Award from The Royal Society / British Association provided the opportunity to design and implement an Adult Training Programme based upon the workshop approaches.

The simple idea has been, that the kind of activities we carry out fit well with curriculum enrichment and out-of-school learning approaches, so why not place them in the hands of those who manage and implement on a day-to-day basis, at the local level?

Participants would end up with a series of Workshop Activities, together with materials and resources to develop their own practice, once trained in their use and applications.

The Process

During the Summer Term of 1999, Building Experiences circulated schools in The London Borough of Tower Hamlets through the offices of the Education Business Partnership. At the same time we also approached the Society of Black Architects through its networks, to seek their participation in the initiative. The combination of teacher and other professional working together helped to enhance the whole learning process, as well as provide the basis for further connection and networking.

During the Autumn Term of 1999, and on 3 separate days, 3 teachers and 3 architects took part in training sessions at St Katherine’s Foundation, Limehouse. During these sessions the participants received training and exposure to approaches to teaching and learning through built environment activities. Each participant will develop out-of-hours learning opportunities using the materials and activities.

The Programme

Quite briefly, The Adult Training Programme gave the participants an opportunity to explore and examine a number of Workshops. Just as importantly, in terms of time and energy they were able to leave with ready-made and available materials and resources to add to their repertoire of ‘exciting, stimulating and challenging things that can be done’ with children, students.

The Training Programme included the following themes and Workshops:

  • Building Large Structures: Giant Tetrahedra, Bridges, and Millennium Dome

  • Making Models and Floor Design Layouts: Renovate, Design a Community Centre

  • Sustainable Communities and Building Materials: Housing Design

Support Networks

The Training Programme recognised the need for adults working towards the kind of approach in the provision of out-of-hours learning, to realise that they are not doing so in isolation. During the Programme there were inputs from the Education Business Partnership and Education Extra. Both of these inputs proved to be extremely valuable and have led to subsequent developments for the participants. Similarly, the Society of Black Architects –SOBA- have been able to progress their work in London through connections made in Tower Hamlets.


The training programme is wonderful for creating contacts e.g. I am hoping to get someone from SOBA to come to school, either to support 1 or 2 individual pupils’ career choices, or as in input in to the Career’s Curriculum, as well as more long-term starting points to projects. I have decided to actively extend the extra-curricular aspect of my work – hopefully with the school’s support.

Julia Kent, Morpeth School

I found the Workshop activities stimulating and the training has given me lots of ideas for future activities and cross-curricular links at my school. I think I would like to train other people at the school to do the same. The course leader has filled me with an enthusiasm and a can-do attitude. The training was clearly structured and I could keep track of what I was learning and make notes. The choice of venue was perfect, a calm oasis in the city. Brilliant.

Mark Brown, Langdon Park School

My motivation for attending the Training Programme was to develop a programme of Design & Technology activities for after-school clubs. I’ve found it extremely useful and stimulating. I feel that I will be able to develop activities that I can use. In addition the ethos and working methodology of the training has served to reinforce some basic principle of teaching and learning which can be so easily lost. Brilliant.

Sarah Covenay, Oaklands School

The mix between architects and teachers was important. We were able to build upon each other’s experiences, and therefore work as a multi-disciplinary team with complimentary roles. This combination applied for children will enable them to learn from different perspectives. The comments from Education Extra regarding efficient use of resources where there are overlaps between the objectives and aspirations of organisations is important in developing networks and working relationships. The Education Business Partnership in any area could play an important role, as the link between schools and potential support from industry and the business community.

So far in its work, The Society of Black Architects has been influenced by our desire to act as facilitators in getting students to design and improve their physical environment. The experiences from this initiative give us the scope to consider a new dimension to our objectives.

Ibi Ekineh, Society of Black Architects

Building Experiences


The Programme:



An overview of the 3 –day programme and expectations





Building Large Structures – some simple techniques

Applications and Illustrations of Workshops approaches: including; self-monitoring and evaluation, identifying and managing the learning process.

Learning outcomes for pupils

Evaluation of session – outcomes for participants


Renovation – A Workshop of 3 D model-making of a 5 Storey-building






Floor Design Layout - a group exercise

Learner outcomes.

Applications of this Workshop, including managing a longer-term project.

Evaluation of session – outcomes for participants.



Sustainable Communities. The Application of key ideas to 2 Workshops:


A Housing Design Layout & Design A Community Centre

Learner outcomes

How might this approach be used and developed? 

Evaluation of session – outcomes for participants.

Some philosophy related to education

The Role of Tower Hamlets Education Business Partnership - Glennis Copplestone


Making Creative Structures – a group activity


The Role of Education Extra – Mark Robertson

Evaluation of session – outcomes for participants.



Art & The Built Environment – using the School environment - & Imagine. Two Workshops experienced and their applications explored.


Learner outcomes

How might this approach be used and developed?

Evaluation of session – outcomes for participants.


The Millennium Dome – a celebratory group exercise preceding the distribution of participant’s kits.

Plenary under the Dome and final evaluations.


The initiative ended up with 3 teachers and 3 architects who worked together for the duration of the Training Programme, and who have built a mutually supportive network amongst themselves.


Building Experiences     Site Design: Wills-Fleming