The Nineteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2017
Berkeley Prize 2017

[ID:1906] "PlaySpace Children's Theatre" - An Innovative Mobile Resource

Australia

Targeting the development of positive early experiences in a world of increasing urbanization and restrictions is important so that children have the opportunity to develop and learn. Children, those individuals up to approximately 16 years of age, have special needs, which the urban environment must satisfy. It is imperative for our society to shape this environment to ensure these special needs.

Increased child-friendly environments promote the social and emotional development of society as a whole, and allow children to enhance their creative and intellectual development. If the urban environment becomes a learning opportunity for children, they augment and sharpen their observational skills and increase their motivation. As they play a part in shaping their surroundings they interact positively with the environment. This helps them to develop into mature, resilient human beings. Play, social interaction, independent mobility, and involvement with the local community are key components.

“PlaySpace Children’s Theatre” provides such opportunities for development.

Given the crucial nature of the environment to facilitate the development and education of our children, we need to keep in mind that children perceive their environment as part of a total experience rather than as unconnected and transitory episodes. Unrestrained by adults, children are perpetually active and searching for things to do. Their attention is captured by objects, textures, colours and shapes, and they have an intuitive sense of association. Everything is connected, relationships with family, friends and animals, sights and sounds, learning and games. They relate most strongly to places that involve play, exploration, and modification and have a magnetic affinity for places adults overlook, being attracted to places over which they can assert territorial claims. Choices such as where to sit and discovery moments meld into one experience.

In Chapter 17 of “The Child in the City, the City as a Resource”, (1977, pp. 176-185), Colin Ward claims that the city is as important to learning as school is, in terms of the complexity of encounters, community experience, negotiations, transportation and explorations it can offer. He describes various projects in the United Kingdom and the Untied States of America where schools use the city as a learning tool. As well as visiting galleries and museums to learn about history, science, anthropology and art, children are taken to various buildings and workplaces to learn of occupations and careers.

The environment as a source of learning is embodied in the Department of School Education Curriculum for primary schools in New South Wales. It states “learning is a process of change in patterns of thinking, valuing, feeling, and acting resulting from an interaction between the child and his environment.”

“PlaySpace” recognizes the importance of such interactions.

Hart, in “Children’s Experience of Place” (1979, p343) suggests that the effect of limited environmental experience could result in a lower standard of education:

“If children have such poor conception of the relationship of their own environment and to the world beyond it, they may also be less likely to show interest in the kind of distant places discussed in social studies, history and reading in general...”

At its best, “PlaySpace Children’s Theatre” is a dialogue between the arts and classroom education and creates enormous opportunities and a significant contribution to the growth of children from all backgrounds and stages of development. By bringing children into contact with an environment of professional theatre, it makes them eager for achievements of their own. They can come away with a quickened interest in things and a deeper awareness of their own creative possibilities. Existing children’s theatre productions show that each performance empowers a child’s sense of self, changes the quality of their lives and of what they do and make.

A Scottish Arts Council study “Art Centres for Children and Young People” recommends that existing theatres need to be more accessible for children. Accessible theatre for children is important because theatre socializes, civilizes, and contributes to the development of healthy, adaptable individuals and societies. Children theatre spaces that are developed to have the qualities that reinforce social, dramatic and quiet play, benefit our children in the increasingly ordered and controlled urban environment. Kevin Lynch (ed) in “Growing up in Cities” (1977,p56) suggests that:

“Such areas would serve as necessary supplement to the traditional parks and playgrounds, which do not allow creative play”

The International Play Association, which actively promotes the child’s right to play as identified in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of a Child, defines play as follows:

•A variety of activities which a child finds satisfying, creative and spontaneous; and chooses freely

•Communication and expression combining thought and action

•A device which helps children develop physically, mentally, emotionally and socially

•A way of learning to live, not a mere passing of time – it is an essential part of every child’s development

Linda Corkery, expands on this in “Playspace: Handbook for Planning Outdoor Play Environments” (1987, p.4). She states there are four main types of play that should be catered for:

1.Active motor play – supporting the development of gross motor skills requiring the whole body

2.Creative cognitive play – supporting the development of fine motor skills and mental skills which require concentrated activity eg. Non-active interactive play

3.Social dramatic play – supporting the development of social skills eg. Dress ups and role playing

4.Quiet play – developing emotional skills, for instance, observing others at play or reading

Most spaces provide facilities for active development, but not creative, social, or quiet learning. “PlaySpace Children’s Theatre” in addressing the inadequacies of Sydney's existing child friendly spaces, provides a space incorporating creative, social and quiet play. It does this because it recognizes and values the importance of education, development and the sanctity of a children’s theatre in complementing child play.

When developed appropriately, children’s theatre spaces have an unparalleled power to enhance the development of the societies in which they exist. Existing beyond the need to enclose a space is the need to provide a space where community and performer can share an experience and an understanding, where they unite, despite age, in a common mystery or expectation. With a sense of delight and occasion, they are supportive of, and dedicated to, creating social bonds in a celebratory context of public ritual. They act as a vessel for congregation; they define their communities, make sensory connections to the past and reflect community aspirations. Live theatre is one of the clearest forms of expression of identity.

Children’s theatre, in supporting and encouraging a healthy community development, has the capacity to create an unforgettable impression. In captivating adults and children alike, the performers with the aid of successful development are able to embrace an assembly of faces in a transient but memorable moment of intense intimacy. The extent to which this is done, the innovation on display, indicates the interest in the performance of the society of that time and place. Traditional environments designed specifically for children, such as playgrounds or schools, meet some but not all of these necessary requirements. Environments designed with our children in mind such as “PlaySpace” consider the limitations of children and facilitate opportunities to enable new perceptions and abilities to be tested as they develop.

When special attention is paid to providing child-friendly environments, the range of children’s experience dramatically increase and the community as a whole benefits. As the children’s environment designer, Mary Featherston, states in her recent interview with Stephen Crafti from the Design Institute of Australia: “When you establish the right environment for children, you create a journey that is endless.”

In addition children are physically small but scale can also be an advantage. Their smallness makes them see the world as a magical place, as exciting and wondrous but also overwhelming. In fact, the chaotic context of urban sights and sounds is often so confusing that as result children are more physically and mentally limited than adults when they engage with society.

Reinforcing this view, the executive summary of “Child Friendly Environments” by the New South Wales Department of Urban Affairs and Planning in collaboration with the NSW Play Alliance states that increased urbanization and high density housing often allow children little control of their home environment.

Sites, such as the Sydney Eveleigh Historic Railway workshops, home of “PlaySpace”, are important as they contain objects which children modify to form their own play environment. Integrating giant play articles that children can explore safely in common spaces allow children to enjoy their small scale and creates an increased aesthetic for adults. Sites like this allow children greater control, offer privacy and solitude, without being restrained by adults or contained in environments too neat, too safe or organized.

With an urban home located in the historic Eveleigh Railway Workshops as part of the Performance Complex currently under construction, my proposal is for a purpose built traveling children’s theatre called “PlaySpace.” In the form of a railway carriage, this innovative mobile resource has the interest of local councils such as Parramatta, Penrith, and the Illawarra with possible expansion capable to the regional centres, Bathurst and Orange, all of which are rail accessible.

There exists several children’s theatre companies that have venues where they self-present work in New South Wales. There are, however, no dedicated purpose built venues comparable with venues in other countries, such as “Contact Theatre” in Manchester (United Kingdom) or the New Victory Theatre (New York). It is notable also that no Children’s Performing Arts Festival occurs in New South Wales. There are, however, a number of traveling children’s theatre companies that could utilize this resource providing a further means of broadening theatre access for children audiences.

Given that Sydney is an expanding city, the Sydney Council, The New South Wales Ministry for the Arts and The Australia Council support the idea of a children’s theatre that travels to outer-Sydney.

The Australia Council’s policy is a commitment to supporting and encouraging and promoting creative practices by, for, and with young people and children. Their vision acknowledges children for their inherent qualities, values them for their diversity and innovation, and recognizes them as a key contribution to Australian culture, both locally and globally. By its previous funding of various children’s theatre programs, the Australia Council shows it values the traditions and capacity for innovation that exists in culturally diverse societies such as Sydney.

Common trends show that the state of New South Wales as a whole is working towards developing links between education and the performing arts by providing a subsidy for geographically isolated children, the opportunity to attend performances and provides tours to isolated communities as part of the 2005 New South Wales Ministry for the Arts Artist in Residence Program. There is also additional assistance from Creative Arts Consultants available for theatres such as “PlaySpace.”

The New South Wales Ministry for the Arts sees schools as key providers and producers of the arts and recognizes that the collaboration of arts and education has a “profound bearing on children’s appreciation of the arts and their later participation as adults.” Evidenced by its allocation of funds in the Art Access Strategy, the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts makes a commitment to improving the learning outcomes of children, both as artists and as audience, with a particular focus on funding for regional infrastructure, development and expansion. The New South Wales Department of Education and Training also provides some funding assistance that can be utilized.

Locally, Sydney Council Youth Arts Strategy of 2005 identifies how the body’s funding should be allocated and how the needs of children and young people are considered in the planning processes for urban space and urban design. Sydney City Council recognizes the lack of accessible cultural facilities as having a significantly negative impact on the Sydney urban environment. It recognizes that youth services are not as accessible as they could be because they are often considered unsafe. Sydney City Council recognises that it is issue that needs to be addressed, and provides funding on this basis. In its mobility, “PlaySpace Children's Theatre” accommodates and lessens this negative impact by not insisting on attracting audience to the theatre but by bringing the theatre to a more available audience.

As a parent studying at university in an inner city my motivation is to ensure that children from remote areas get the same benefits as are available to my child and "PlaySpace" is a tribute to the importance of quality urban space and the way children relate to it. Increasing child-friendly urban spaces is paramount to the cultural development of Sydney as our children are our future. Our rising stars.

Innovative and unique uses urban space, such as is similar to “PlaySpace Chidlren’s Theatre,” have played an important role throughout history. They have provided a central space for diversity, a place for people to come together and share ideas. Gentrification of our city has seen the disappearance of many spaces that have previously allowed culture and politics to flourish, thus isolating people, creating and insular world of diminishing free expression, limited diversity and creativity. Dynamic use of urban space is of paramount importance to Sydney in the 21st Century because urban spaces will continue to make a significant contribution to our city’s unique identity, welfare and its economic wellbeing. In essence, it is the quality of our urban fabric that is vitally important.

Given that Australia as a whole has no purpose built venues for children’s theatre but mere adaptations, “PlaySpace” represents an opportunity for the City of Sydney to provide a valuable and innovative mobile resource for our children. In asserting that children are entitled to the same cultural rights as adults, the expenditure is reasonable because children are not just the audiences of tomorrow, but also the audiences of today.

Bibliography

Corkery, Linda. Playspace: Handbook for Planning Outdoor Play Environments. Communities Activites Newtork Library. NSW, Australia. 1987.

Hart, Roger. Children’s Experience of Place. Irvington Publishers Inc. New York, USA. 1979.

Lynch, Kevin.(ed). Growing up in Cities. United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. 1977.

Ward, Colin. The Child in the City, the City as a Resource. Architectural Press Ltd. London, UK. 1977.

Publications

NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning in Collaboration with the NSW Play Alliance. Child Friendly Environments. 1999.

2003 Review of Theatre for Young People. Australia Council and the NSW Ministry for the Arts

Websites

www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/community/documents/YouthServices/YouthStrategyPlan.pdf

www.dia.org.au/index.cfm?module=article&id=34

If you would like to contact this author, please send a request to info@berkeleyprize.org.


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