On Sunday 19 June, architects, students and children (and some parents) took an entirely creative stance on the upcoming EU Referendum. By exploring design through the medium of thousands of tiny colourful plastic pieces, teams in the Royal Academy Lego Architecture Challenge demonstrated their solidarity with Europe as part of the London Festival of Architecture.
The Challenge is now three years old and has seen teams of architects take to the rooms of the RA Summer Exhibition to battle it out for the annual prize of top Lego builder. A menagerie of international architects made up four groups from Arup Associates, AHMM, Coffey Architects and Gort Scott. The theme for this year’s festival is Community and the architects were tasked with creating proposals to demonstrate how design can engender healthy and prosperous communities at any scale, from a building to an entire city. The teams were each supplied with willing students from the RA attRAct programme that offers young people in state education access to the arts and architecture to help them ponder their own creative future. There were also some surprise micro-helpers in the form of lots of sticky fingers and their adult-sized overseers. The Challenge was judged by some of the great and good of the architectural community: Patricia Brown (Chair of the LFA), Ian Ritchie (architect and RA Architecture Room curator) and Ellie Stathaki (Wallpaper Architecture Editor).
Coffey Architects produced a Migration City, divided up into distinct coloured zones. The different areas would house displaced populations in communities where they felt safe while in a new country. However, the children soon started contributing multi-coloured buildings to add to the ordered skyline and these were incorporated as a sign of the inevitable mix that would occur over time. The Migration City was a work in progress and the architects looked forward to a time when every building was a complete mix of nationalities and identities. This project was commended by the judges as an elegant proposal with a good heart.
Arup Associates typically created a structural tour de force. Their Community Tube represented a flexible and adaptable space that could house many changing functions over time, serving the local community as needed. The tube itself rested on a series of smaller interventions which were the organic result of growing communities within the city landscape, demonstrating that great ideas rest on the hard work of the population.
A network of building frames and bridges were created by architects AHMM. This simple and adaptable system would allow communities to move in and use architecture for their own distinct purposes. It could be added to and changed over time but the necessary connections were there to get things going. The judges liked this scheme as it could be read as a very large building or an entire city, the approach would work at either scale.
The winning proposal was a kaleidoscopic array of creativity and love for the European Union. Gort Scott set out to create a community park based on the colour scheme of the EU Barcode flag by OMA. They set the base but then let children start to build the park and its amenities as they saw fit. The idea was that the park would remain beautiful thanks to its creative origins but that the people it served would find the best possible use for the space. The judges loved the idea that parks should develop over time, something that is missing from many of London’s green spaces which remain frozen in aspic. It was also praised as a hopeful symbol of Europe’s future, built by participants from many nationalities. This simple family event at the Royal Academy was further proof that the younger generation see hope and opportunity in a united Europe and they voted with their bricks.