Talking to UIA – Architecture and Children members: Magdalina Rajeva

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 was an interview with Dr. Barbara Feller, our colleague from Austria, and can be read here, whilst the second article was an interview with Suzanne de Laval, our colleague from Sweden, and can be read here.

We continue our brand new series with an interview with Magdalina Rajeva, our colleague from the neighboring country, Bulgaria. Magdalina Rajeva received her Masters’ Degree in Architecture from the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy in Sofia, Bulgaria. She runs her own architectural studio “ArchPoint” in Sofia with numerous projects in different fields – interior design, residential, public and industrial architecture. She is devoted to the idea of developing young people’s awareness of architecture, city and sustainable development. In 2011 she co-founded the Children Architectural Workshop, a non-profit organization meant to inspire and emotionally engage children in architecture derived activities. This year Children Architectural Workshop published “Building Together with Children” as part of the project “Building Together: Children`s City” realized in 2019 by Goethe-Institut Bulgaria as part of the cultural programme of Plovdiv European Capital of Culture 2019, in partnership with Atelier 3, Children’s Architectural Workshop, Discovered Spaces, and with the support of Wilo Foundation. De-a Arhitectura features in the publication with one of the projects from the “De-a arhitectura in my school” educational program alongside other organizations from Blugaria, Denmark, Germany and Sweden. Since 2014 Magdalina is a representative of the Union of Architects in Bulgaria to the UIA – Architecture and Children Work Program and an alternate UIA council member in 2017-2020 (region II).

Foto: Alexandra Rajeva

⌂ Why do you think it’s beneficial for architects and city planners to work with children?

In the past forty years architects and city planners realized the importance of citizen participation in defining the spaces inhabited by them and started to work to fulfill the increased public demand for an urban environment of better quality. In this context, children’s education regarding built environment turns to be a primary social task. On the one hand, children as a large group involved in urban life have their own requirements and needs for the urban environment. It is no coincidence that a city good for children will be good for everyone. On the other hand, the future quality of the environment we live in will be determined by today’s children. By working with them now, architects are educating their future investors.

⌂ Why do you think it is important for children to come in contact with activities related to architecture, built environment, art, science, play? What do they learn and what do they gain from interacting with built environment professionals?

For the last 10 years my work has been mainly focused on the importance of introducing the field of architecture to children in order to increase their interest towards the built environment in general and to foster an understanding of different cultural tendencies influencing its shaping. Examining closely their city, children also build a sense of belonging, empathy, identity and pride in their immediate built environment. By fostering children’s personal relationship with the city where they grow up, I believe they could become more environmentally responsible adults in the future. Active citizenship is a process of gradual education. The creation of a positive attitude towards cultural heritage and an awareness of the relationship between human activities and their consequences on urban areas’ transformations will help children understand each citizen’s impact in determining the character of cities and one’s right to request a good quality urban environment.

⌂ 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? 

It is very important that when we start a project, it is properly addressed to the specific age group of children. If they recognize the topic, find it interesting and related to their daily lives, the chance of being fascinated and intrigued is much greater. Children understand when the adults show genuine interest and respect for what they have to say or show, and this helps us gain their trust and at the same time motivates them to work on their tasks. In most cases, architectural workshops are different from traditional school projects, but finding connections to the subjects they study makes children feel confident in the knowledge they possess. Working on real tasks and using real tools and materials such as wood, metal, concrete, etc. always inspires the students and in the end they proudly share their creations with friends.

⌂ Can you tell us a bit about how Children Architectural Workshop inspires and emotionally engages children in architecture derived activities in Bulgaria?

In 2011 the organization Children Architectural Workshop was founded. In a team of architects and architecture students we are carrying out an interdisciplinary program, based on various themes in the area of architecture, art and science. The team organizes a variety of architectural workshops – in the schools during the school year, in the Union of the Bulgarian Architects every Saturday, in the museums or during different cultural events. As a continuation of our main course, at the end of the school year, we organize architectural workshops outdoor which aim to improve children`s competences by creating real one-to-one scale projects. In these exercises the students have the possibility to practice their already obtained knowledge and skills in managing with real life situations and increase their awareness towards the built environment. In the last two years we have also published a series of 5 books, “10 architecture puzzles for kids”, with interactive routes that use the city as an educational tool for visual arts, graphics and architecture. Since the beginning of 2018 we have started an educational project “Mobile school Stolipinovo” which is focused on educational initiatives with children between 6 and 16 in Stolipinovo – the most populous predominantly Romani-inhabited district in the Balkans. The aim of the workshops is to give children the experience and ability to communicate outside their immediate community, self-confidence and cultural and social skills.

⌂ Why did you choose to become an architect? 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 you as an architect?

I chose to become an architect because as a child I was very impressed by the stories of a friend (architect) of my parents about old houses and towns in Bulgaria – how they arose and what they are related to. I also wanted to be able to create spaces that combine buildings and public areas with atmosphere and spirit.

Unfortunately, in recent years in Bulgaria, through the media more and more often negative attitudes are created in the citizens that with their projects the architects ruin the nature, that they rebuild the big cities with giant buildings in the interest of the rich people. I believe that nowadays it is really important to present the other role of our profession, not only as participants in the building process, but in society in general.

My work with children for the last ten years makes me feel positive. I can say that it is like a breath of fresh air that inspires me in my architectural profession. And I always feel proud when a child in a class enthusiastically asks me… “But are you really an architect?”

*The article can be read in Romanian, here.

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