Varvara Bolenkova’s house is made from wood, glass, and metal and has a mosaic-like facade. Nestled into the nearby forest, it features a ground floor swimming pool that is fed by an adjacent waterfall. Its living rooms are contained within a raised first floor, beneath a roof that is open all year except during winter. “You have never seen a house like this before,” says the Belarusian architect, who is five years old. “It’s a nice place to relax when you are on school vacation or a trip with your parents.”
Colourful Pool House, Bolenkova’s creation, is one among dozens of projects created by the students of Minsk’s Architectural Thinking School for Children and featured in HOUSEDOMDOM, the first publication produced by the school’s directors Elena Karpilova and Alexander Novikov since its founding in 2016. Frustrated by the lack of creative pedagogy for the arts in Minsk, as well as the restrictive, profit-driven architecture industry, Novikov and Karpilova sought to share the knowledge of their tight knit creative community with a new generation. “I was doing some workshops for children in a private school in the summer 2016. I had carte blanche, and I thought, ‘Why not try to do something with architecture?’” explains Karpilova, who has a background in art history. “I saw great potential in these art classes, not just to do with drawing on paper but to make something interdisciplinary, connected to architecture or cinema.”
The duo quickly designed a three-year curriculum and by autumn 2016, 48 students had enrolled as part of the first cohort of the Architecture Thinking School. As the name suggests, rather than a purely architectural education, the school promotes cross-disciplinary thinking across different fields, including contemporary art, journalism, graphic design, biology, and psychology. The students, who are aged between five and 15, and attend the private classes alongside their regular education, make books, films, maps, and buildings while engaging with their surroundings in Minsk. One project saw the students conducting sociological research on the structure, transport and architecture of Minsk to produce an interactive map depicting the future of the Belarussian capital.
The projects featured in HOUSEDOMDOM are more typically architectural. They depict studies for single-family homes and apartment buildings, complete with rigorously detailed plan, section, and facade perspectives. These projects are then presented alongside historical examples of avant-garde architecture, creating moments of comparison which elevate the childrens’ creativity and design sensitivity. “With this book we proved that children are geniuses,” explains Novikov, who previously worked as an architect for major firms in Moscow. “You can have a Rem Koolhaas project and then a six-year-old’s project together, and they are explaining the same idea, or they have one philosophy.”
Varvara Bolenkova’s Colorful Pool House, for example, is paired with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater project; both buildings attempt to closely integrate themselves with surrounding natural features. Or the open simplicity of the Irregular Triangle house by Arseny Zhukevich (age eight), is read next to Sou Foujimoto’s minimal masterpiece in Toyko, House NA.
That said, not all the featured projects have such direct points of comparison. Their genius, however, lies in the balance between wildly delightful architectural science fiction and pragmatic design thinking. The Fruit House by Ares Ferentsak (age nine), for example, is made out of cookies, bread, and bananas; or the Fish House by Valeria Plyshevskaya (age seven) has a tail for swimming with.
Unsurprisingly, many are designed to be environmentally sustainable: Aleksandr Shreremet’s (age 13) ECOCO is designed to resemble a baobab tree; Karolina Savvchenko’s (age 12) ECO HF will “stand for a very long time, and it will prevent the Earth from becoming polluted”; and the Snail Mobile Eco House by Sofia Prudnikova (age 10), is a 10-storey apartment building which restores the environment as it moves around Minsk.
Karpilova and Novikov see the potential of the school to influence the future of the built environment of Belarus and beyond. Rather than paying lip-service to the views of children in participatory design processes, they envision a future where children’s opinions are taken seriously. “You can make a ‘good’ kindergarten,” says Karpilova, “but for children it might not be very good if you don’t even ask them what they want.”
“I see our school as a think tank,” explains Novikov. “In recent years, children are becoming more important, people have started listening to their opinions. The first step was this book, where we said ‘children are geniuses’. Their ideas are equal to the ideas of geniuses. And the next step will be to create a sort of think tank where children will think through or solve the problems of today. I think we’ve already started to move in that direction.”
The book HOUSEDOMDOM can be purchased through the Minsk’s Architectural Thinking School for Children Facebook page.