Talking to UIA – Architecture and Children members: Barbara Feller

More than half of the world’s population lives at this moment in urban areas. The United Nations states that 68% of the world population will be living in cities by 2050. It’s not bold to say that as much as we, as professionals, are shaping the built environment, it shapes us in equal measure. Our well-being, as city dwellers, is deeply connected to how well our environment is planned, designed, shaped. This puts on our shoulders, as architects and urban planners, a huge responsibility. But we are not alone in sharing this responsibility. Together with the authorities and law-makers, we have the duty of providing a sustainable built environment, suited to the needs of the people living in it today, as well as for the future generations that will inherit it. Keeping in mind all of the above, it is quite obvious why the citizens, the communities, have an important stake in how our built environment is designed, as much as the professionals do.

In order to improve how our built environment is planned, globally there’s been a wave, a movement, in which professionals are raising awareness about the importance of built environment education. If more and more people become aware of their surroundings and get involved in reshaping and improving it, the result will be a better co-existence within the smallest or largest of communities, an improved quality of life, in direct link to the quality of the built environment.

As a member of the UIA (International Union of Architects) – Architecture and Children Work Program, we undertake this mission to raise awareness about built environment education (BEE). In 2020 we are launching a new series of interviews with the members of the Work Program, to better understand how our international colleagues implement BEE activities, what is their vision and approach in their specific set of circumstances and what we can learn from it. Our first article in the series is an interview with Dr. Barbara Feller, our colleague from Austria, our first guest speaker at the “De-a arhitectura Talks” conferences in 2014.

Dr. Barbara Feller, chairwoman since 2010 of BINK – Initiative Built Environment Education for young people (Bink Initiatve Baukulturvermittlung für junge Menschen) in Austria, studied History and Pedagogy at the University of Vienna and is a director of the Austrian Architectural Foundation (Architekturstiftung Österreich) since 1996. She is responsible for architecture at KulturKontakt Austria since 2001 and a member of the Baukultur-Board at the Austrian Federal Chancellery, as well as being responsible for the concept and editing of the biannual publication “Best of Austria. Architecture” since 2008.

Dr. Barbara Feller and BINK are the Austrian representatives to the UIA – Architecture and Children Work Program, the BINK network assembling all relevant institutions and organizations working in this field in Austria. Furthermore, Dr. Barbara Feller is De-a Arhitectura Association’s first international supporter.

Photo by: Mario Lang

⌂ Why do you think it’s important to teach teachers about built environment and architecture education? How do you train teachers in Austria to better implement a BEE (Built Environment Education) course in the classroom?

Teachers are very important multipliers!

Most teachers – as citizens in general – look at architecture as something that has nothing to do with their lives. This is why subjects considering architecture generally don’t find their way into school lessons very often. Therefore teacher training and further education of teachers play a major role in implementation of BEE in the daily school life. Unfortunately, we have not gotten in this subject as far as we liked to. There are several occasional offers in this field, but not an Austrian-wide one.

⌂ Why do you think it’s beneficial for architects to work with children and how can they better integrate in the school environment to better teach a BEE course in the classroom?

I think, that for architects in general it is important that they are in contact with the population and especially with young people. In my experience the integration of architects into school lessons can only be punctual as in sharing an authentic point of view from the perspective of their profession. It is important that they establish a close contact with teachers beforehand to react appropriately to the interests and knowledge of their pupils.

⌂ Why do you think it is important to introduce into the school curriculum an architecture and built environment education course for children and adolescents?

People are spending the biggest part of their lives in shaped/designed environments. Therefore it is important to also have basic knowledge about it. Further, the field of building and living is the one we are spending the biggest amount of our income for, which is another argument for the importance of knowledge in this fields. It’s not just about questions of aesthetics, but ethics and societal aspects: where and how we live, work and spend our leisure time are essential for living together. It also touches ecological questions (especially traffic, but also building material), as well as cultural perspectives.

⌂ Please tell us briefly, from your own experience, how did you manage to better implement your projects in connection to this subject, what are the elements that ensure the desired impact that you’ve set from the beginning? What would your advice be for those people or organizations that walk the same path? 

From my perspective the integration of teachers is crucial! They are the most important multipliers (see question 1). Useful teaching materials are supporting them with the integration of BEE topics into the school lessons.

Cultural children and youth work is also an important field beside school. At the new construction of schools and kindergartens it is important to consider the latest educational requirements – good educational buildings are crucial to wake the interest of young people (and their teachers and parents), as well as positive feelings for contemporary architecture.

⌂ How do you think citizens perceive the profession of architect and the role of the architect in society? How do you think young people and children see architects?

Most people associate architecture with “big buildings” like museums, churches or parliaments. Only few people think of their daily environment. This is the reason why architects are usually seen far from people’s reality of every day’s life and architecture is seen as “luxury”. Therefore it seems important to me to create a consciousness for architecture as quality of every day’s life.

BEE is not so much engaged in the education of “little architects”, but in demonstrating and pointing out the environment’s formability, as well as the ability to participate in planning processes in a qualified way.

*The article can be read in Romanian, here.