The Storytelling Igloo

Two teachers and two students next to The Storytelling Igloo, a structure made from coloured concrete blocks, on display in a white-walled gallery.

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The Storytelling Igloo was a schools project in Autumn / Winter 2017 which engaged 140 students aged 8 – 14 from five schools in Barnet: Woodridge Primary School, The Hyde School, The Compton, Totteridge Academy and Colindale Primary School.

Award-winning architecture firm Aberrant Architecture was commissioned to deliver a workshop programme within the schools which would culminate in an exhibition in our Apthorp Gallery. The company designed a project introducing children and young people to architecture and design, which led to the building of The Storytelling Igloo, a unique structure displaying the ideas of many young minds.

To deliver the project, Aberrant also collaborated with the University of Westminster Fabrication Laboratory, and recent graduates from The CASS (Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design at London Metropolitan University) making this a truly cross-institutional endeavor.

In the initial phase of the project Aberrant held workshops at each of the five schools, for students to find out what an architect does and to explore ideas of personal identity and meaningful space. Through discussion and drawing, the children considered both real and imaginary space, identifying favourite local places as well as making suggestions for fantastical or wished-for locations.

These ideas were first recorded and shared through intuitive and spontaneous hand drawing; the next phase was translating some of these designs using 3D modelling software, and also by hand-modelling in clay. Then with the help of the University of Westminster FabLab, the hand-formed and digitally modelled designs were translated into CNC-modelled moulds, allowing each individual brick to bear a bespoke design.More than 300 bricks were made using Papercrete, an innovate and sustainable construction material which recycles paper pulp.

All the individually designed elements from each of the five schools were brought together into one coherent structure – The Storytelling Igloo. The bricks were carefully numbered and labelled, and the assembly was choreographed and executed by a team of volunteers including graduates from The CASS BA (Hons) Interior Architecture & Design programme, and the staff of artsdepot.

Finally, the project in its entirety – from conception, through design, production and assembly – was shared with the public. The Storytelling Igloo was distplayed in our Apthorp Gallery, alongside an exhibition of the students’ drawings, an explanation of the making process and a short film. This was on display from Wed 13 – Sun 31 Dec 2017.

Students of all ages, backgrounds and abilities could relate to universal questions about identity and sense of place, experienced the practical elements of the project and took pride in seeing their work displayed in a professional venue. When asked for their reaction to seeing their work, one young student said: “I felt really excited and happy because I worked very hard on it and I’m proud of myself.”

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