The task: Children, architecture and the urban environment
Explore your local environment or house and street, or the university campus, or other environment, taking notes, taking photographs and/or making sketches. Consider one building and all the planning that goes into its creation and construction. What does the external appearance of the building “say” about it? Does the form of the building suit its function (is it fit for purpose?) How well does it fit with its surroundings? What materials have been used, and why? Are there decorative elements to the building?
Observations of the local environment
From my walk around my local area I found that Dundee has a mixture of traditional old buildings and new contemporary buildings. This encouraged me to reflect on the history of the buildings – if they have always served the same purpose? Do the buildings still meet the needs of our 21st century life? This could link in well with a history topic on our local area. Through this, pupils could explore the different materials that are used in older buildings compared to now and consider if overall design preferences have changed.
The V&A- Planning
The building I chose to focus on is the V&A museum. As this is one of only two V&A museums in the whole of the UK and the only one in Scotland, I presume a large amount of planning will have gone into the building. As it would also become a landmark for Dundee, it needed to stand out and have its own identity.
External appearance and it’s surroundings
The appearance definitely stands out. It has a very bold exterior, made up of one colour (dark grey concrete) and very defined edges. I feel the colour fits in well with the location of the building which is surrounded by other grey things such as roads and buildings. In comparison If the building was sitting in the middle of the countryside it would be a harsh contrast. I wonder if the colour is also a reflection of the history of the area which was a shipyard many years ago. I can imagine this industrial part of Dundee being very grey then too. Moving onto the shape of the building, I believe the shape may be designed to resemble a ship which obviously suits its location well. Designing the structure of the building in this way would have needed careful consideration by engineers. For example, there are parts of the building hanging over like cliffs and these would need to be supported somehow.
What does the building say?
I believe the building conveys the message ‘strong’. Concrete is known as being a very durable material therefore I feel its concrete bulky exterior suggests it is strong enough to withstand the elements from the water it sits beside.
I also feel its bold and heavy look suggests it is owning its space on Dundee waterfront and plans to stay. However, this almost makes it appear uninviting from afar; considering it is a space designed for everyone to access. Although, I feel it balances this out with aspects of light. For example, the inclusion of the walkway in-between the two sides of the building lets in some much-needed light and makes the building appear more inviting. Additionally, the large glass windows at the top of the building also help to break up the dark exterior.
The location of the building assists its functionality as it is situated in the centre of town opposite the train station making it easily accessible for visitors to Dundee. When inside I felt it kept to its modern design with a very open planned layout and allowed for easy navigation around the exhibitions. Although, I was surprised by the lack of windows inside as I thought it would want to take advantage of the panoramic views of the River Tay. However, there is a large balcony dedicated to taking in the views. I wonder if this was on purpose to prevent visitors becoming distracted by the views when looking at exhibitions therefore, they made the view an exhibition in itself.
I noticed a few decorative elements to the build which I feel were designed to prompt visitors to take pictures and therefore increase publicity of the building and the museum. For example, the large V&A sculpture outside the entrance and the pools of water which surround the base of the building.
Overall, I really enjoyed this activity and feel it had great educational value. It required me to spend time looking in details rather than just glancing. This is known as perceptual development (Eglinton, 2003). Following this, I had to develop my visual literacy skills which allowed me to ‘read’ the building and vocalise my thoughts (Penny et al, 2002). As a result, this encouraged me to reflect on why things are the way they are and consider how I might do things differently. This is developing my critical thinking skills as I evaluate and search for new ideas (Battelle for Kids, 2019). I feel this period of observation has sparked my creativity and the want to design my own building- this could be a great art and design project with a class.
This activity has also awakened my aesthetic senses and taught me to appreciate the beauty in everyday things (Bloomfield, 2000). In my opinion, the most beautiful part of the building is the walkway through the middle of the building as it perfectly frames the view of the River Tay in a neat triangle. This makes me feel as though even when I am in the centre of a busy crowded city, there is a calm open space nearby; it makes me feel relaxed. Now I have experienced it for myself, I understand the importance of aesthetic awareness, as it opens up a new way of seeing and appreciating everything in our world (Lowenfeld and Brittian (1987 cited in Eglinton, 2003, p. 8). I would love to hear about other people’s opinions on the building and see how they differ from my own- this would be a great way to highlight to pupils that people have different aesthetic preferences.
- Battelle for Kids (n.d) About Us. Available at: https://www.battelleforkids.org/about-us (Accessed 3/11/19).
- Bloomfield, A. (2000) Teaching Integrated Arts in the Primary School. London: David Fulton Publishers.
- Eglinton, K.A. (2003) Art in the Early Years. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
- Penny, S., Ford, R., Price, L., Young, S. (2002) Teaching Arts in Primary Schools. Exeter: Learning Matters.