Can you imagine a future where children participate in the formation of their own learning environments? Where kids design and build their own schools? At Cowley St Laurence Primary School in the North West of London, WHAT_architecture wanted the users of the building - children, their parents and staff - to be involved in the design and construction of a new school building. The children acted as the client with the aim to inspire creativity in young people and improve the quality of life through good design.
LEGO® was used as a design tool because modelling with it is quick, playful, conducive to experimentation and allows for design democracy: anyone can be the architect! You too can participate! By abandoning the flatness of 2D drawing for the 3D model, the new building’s overall design reacily sprang into shape: a building that was both a bridge and a gateway. As a bridge, it connects the former independent Cowley Infant (State) and St Laurence Junior (Church of England) schools. As a gateway, the building replaces the layers of security fencing that formed the previous entry so that each 371 children pass through this new portal to the imagination!
The ambition of the project had to motivate children. It was decided to attempt something never previously achieved anywhere in the world - to build a permanent building unsing one million LEGO® bricks - and in doing so the project would inspire children to believe that anything is possible through ideas, belief, scholarship and teamwork. Embracing both Government/DCSF policy (“Every Child Matters”) as well as the school’s own core value (“Every individual has a unique and valued contribution to make”), each child participated in Workshops held in the school and designed their own piece of the façade. LEGO® has for long held a popular fascination for its creative potential, yet its merit as an architetural treatment remains unexplored. Making a building out of LEGO® is after all not easy as it is not recognised as a compliant building material: it requires anti-grafitti, flame retardant, UV protection and tamperproof fixings for example. The 250sq.m LEGO® façade was built by the community: children, staff, parents and community volunteers including the nearby Brunel University participated. The logistics of the build meant overcoming Health and Safety issues as children are not ordinarily allowed on building sites! The project is not a television stunt or an adventure park sculpture. The project is a permanent building that has been nearly two years in planning and building regulations controls.
A patent for the LEGO® build process is being submitted to the Intellectual Property Office. Furthermore a Guinness World Record is pending for the largest quantity of interlocking plastic bricks.