Dipl.-Ing. Daniel Hülseweg
2001 – 2009 Architectural Studies at Technical University Berlin
2004 – 2007 Part of the Student Design Team for several “die Baupiloten” projects (Kita Traumbaum, Kita Taka Tuka Land)
2004 – 2005 Architectural Studies at Strathclyde University, Glasgow
since 2008 Employee for Susanne Hofmann Architects BDA
2006 – 2008 Freelancer in different Architectural Offices
How did you at first get involved with designing for children/students?
I first got involved with designing for children as a design student, as part of the Kita Traumbaum team, in Berlin, Kreuzberg in 2004.
How do you involve children in a design process?
We always try to involve the user in our design process. The question for us is always how we can communicate architecture in a way that the user can understand the space he or she is living in and develop the ability to talk about their needs and wishes. Describing the atmosphere to us has proven to be the best tool for triggering their desired (and needed) spatial qualities.
When designing with kids this is an even harder challenge.
We always start our design process with a workshop. We give the kids and their teachers a topic, a fantastical theme that they can play around with. “How do you imagine the “Three of dreams”? What does the world of the silver dragon look like and how does it feel?
Depending on the age of the children there are different ways for them to express themselves. Some build little models/assemblages, others make drawings or collages with the computer, sometimes they just dance and sing.
Whether we are present in the actual workshop or not (one gets better results with younger kids when they work with their teachers alone) at the end we have a presentation with the groups or classes and try to discuss the work they have produced.
Combined with that we, or the students, spend a day in the school/kindergarden to get to know the functional routine of the institution and to observe the kids, their movement and places they like.
Back in the offices – or at the university, when it is a “die Baupiloten”-student project – we interpret the drawings, models, collages and make collages and models ourselves in order to represent the same fantastical, atmospheric world the kids described to us.
We use their language and try to give it a very abstract, atmospheric, yet spatial representation.
We then go back to the kindergarden/schools to now present our work to the children. Did we get it right? Is the dark trunk world blue with shiny pink blossoms? Are they soft or hot?
The children know very well how their imaginative world looks and feels like and they can be very hard critics.
Finding a common language is the aim of these first presentations. Throughout the ongoing process we still use the same language but the models drawings and collages become more and more realistic. At the end, the trunk world, the blossoms or the world of the silver dragon become real parts with a concrete function in the space they are surrounded by in their everyday life. They are seats, tables and chairs or even acoustic panels.
Before starting on a project, how do you plan the process?
We carry out some research about the location and the institution (pedagogical concept etc.) and study the building and site.
Depending on the location, brief and user structure (Age, cultural background, language skills) we develop a participation process.
Apart from collage, model and drawing workshops, we have played participation games, built 1:1 pieces of concept furniture and light installations that change the atmosphere of a school.
When working with the users, how does it influence the process?
Our design process is very much user driven. As a result the first phases of the design process take much longer.
In our case the “user” is ususally a group of people: Pupils and teachers of a school or kindergarden, maybe the pupil parliament. Our goal is to integrate as many of them as possible. Finding a decision or a result in this democratic process takes more time than just dealing with one client that you report to. While we want the user to have a say, we still need to deal with all the regulations and rules that play a part in designing a building. The user and the client are usually not the same person. The owner could be the city or an institution that runs the Kita or school who we want to integrate in the planning process aswell.
What is your optimal result when designing?
An optimal result for me is, when we were able to combine all the different needs, demands and requirements and come up with something that is even better than what the different groups themselves were hoping and looking for.
How do you plan the process to comply the aim?
Our planning must be based on a very precise time schedule with a lot of presentations for the different participants. We try to get significant and precise feedback during every design stage to inform the subsequent phases of the design process.
Do you try to create a sense of ownership for the users? If Yes: How? If No: Why not?
We do. A sense of ownership established through identification with the space. Integrating the user and client in the planning process makes them feel that they are being taken seriously. If the design is based on their ideas, input and needs, it’s easier for them to identify with the new spaces. This in turn leads to a higher satisfaction with the project and less vandalism. It also provides a space that they feel comfortable in because it is the space they decided to live in.
If you ever feel like you get stuck during a project, or in a process, where do you turn? (colleagues, inspiration from the internet, internet communities, friends, experts etc)
As a small office we try communicate as much as possible. Different characters always have different approaches to solving a problem. Having this pool of other ideas around me helps me not to be stuck for too long. The internet, books, films and theatre always provide a lot of inspiration.
If you have worked with children/students and/or teachers how did they take part in the process?
Please see answer to question 2.
“We have found that, just as Sir Ken Robins argues in his famous talks about the education paradigm, kids are being taught out of creativity.”
So when you work with people who you feel have unlearned their imagination, how do you go about re-opening that side of them?
Working with kids that almost never happens. One just has to give them something to play around with, a story, a picture or a word.
When dealing with adults we found that a playful approach helps to re-open that side. Whether that be a collage workshop or a specially designed participation game that uses atmospheric and spatial cards to help them describe the space they are surrounded by or that they want to be in. Most of the times they haven’t lost their imagination but have forgotten how to talk about it. So we try to establish a common language that helps them to open up.
When working with projects that concern a big part of the community, how do you get them involved?
Educational buildings, most of the time, concern a big part of the community. We try to open up the planning process as much as possible to make it transparent and integrative.
We play our participation games on different levels in the planning hierarchy; the user (children, teachers, parents), the client (city’s planning department, building control, educational organisation), the neighbours and so on. We try to bring them together through open presentations and discussions.
Please tell us about a good experience while working in collaboration with users.
The Erika-Mann-primary school in Berlin Wedding was a project that successfully brought everything together.
The director of the school was very interested in opening up the school to the surrounding district, families of the pupils, teachers and the children themselves. To her the spatial changes within the school building were to represent that change in a pedagogical concept. She wanted to open up the classrooms and make the teaching part of the experience of circulating through the building.
The “world of the silver dragon” was developed during a collage participation workshop in the first design phase in 2002 and became such a strong part of the schools identity, that it was clear to the school panel, that they would use that same fantastical world as a base for the second design phase in 2006.
Another really good example was a workshop we did in Berlin- Kreuzberg, a district with a large percentage of people with a migration background. Language problems are a big issue here, so
we developed a game where one could put stickers of more or less architectural like interventions such as trees, slides, gardens, pools, windows on the drawing of the most important square of the district.
A group of Turkish women gave to the workshop and without saying much, because of not speaking the language properly but aswell because of coming from a culture where the female oppinion doesn’t have as much weight as the male, the all had a very introverted but at the same time very visual discussion on how they imagined their living environment to look like.
What does that mean to you?
To me that shows that architecture can actually function as a social catalyst. Maybe the actual building itself can’t but within the planning process there is a lot of potential for it.
Taking the worries and needs of everyone in concern that is somehow involved enhances the appreciation and the identification of the built surrounding people have to live in everyday.
The architect nowadays should see himself more like a mediator between the very functional and pragmatic world of regulations and laws and the emotional and intuitive world of the user. Providing a common ground for a dialogue that leads to a deeper understanding and a more qualified answer then one of the two sides could find on their own.