Primary school children create Mega Maker Lab in former London fire station

Mega Maker Lab for the Institute of Imagination by Matt+Fiona

Architecture educator Matt+Fiona has worked with 100 primary school children to design and built a creative lab for other children.

Named the Mega Maker Lab, the 1,100-square-metre former fire-engine-fixing hall in south London has been converted into a space for children to experiment, design, build and invent.

The space for making has been created for the Institute of Imagination by Matt+Fiona with the support of architecture studio Jestico + Whiles.

As the space is for children, Matt+Fiona collaborated with 100 children from three London primary schools to design and then build it.

Mega Maker Lab for the Institute of Imagination by Matt+Fiona
Photo is by Mark Mercer

“Working with us, over 100 local children decided what a maker space should include, designed it and then fabricated it through a series of modular systems which we developed based on their designs,” explained Fiona MacDonald who along with Matthew Springett makes up Matt+Fiona.

“In designing a children’s maker space, it is children, not adults, who will know most accurately what it is that they want, and what they don’t,” she told Dezeen.

Mega Maker Lab for the Institute of Imagination by Matt+Fiona

The creative workshop is roughly divided into five zones – for play, invention, undertaking building challenges, testing their builds, and using tools. The divisions are marked by timber ramps, tables, and seating platforms designed by the children.

These are meant to suggest a route though the large space, but also let the children decide their own paths. Other spaces are enclosed and topped by sculptural events that can be raised and lowered on pulleys.

Within the space the Institute of Imagination has installed a range of activities for children aged between five and 12 to be creative and build for themselves.

Mega Maker Lab for the Institute of Imagination by Matt+Fiona
Photo is by Mark Mercer

As the Institute of Imagination is a charity that aims to champion creativity in children, creating the space itself was seen as an opportunity to continue its mission.

“The aim of empowering children to design and make is twofold,” said MacDonald. “Through the process we have seen at first hand how it builds new skills, raises confidence and can – in some instances – inspire young people to believe in themselves and turn a new corner,” she continued.

“In a risk-averse age opportunities like this to take a risk and be bold are rare for adults, let alone children. At the same time, the projects serve as reminders and catalysts that it is possible to directly shape your built environment, and very much for the better.”

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According to Matt+Fiona the children were shocked that they actually got to see their designs realised in the project.

“When we first met the children and explained to them what we would all be doing, it was clear they were excited, but perhaps a little sceptical,” explained MacDonald. “The first day of the build was priceless. The children arrived and saw the designs they had created through models and huge collages now actually existed in our 3D model and plans.”

“When they were actually given impact drivers and allowed to get on with making their vision…. well it was clear this something that for most of them this had never happened before, and was quite literally beyond their imaginations – not in terms of creativity, but in terms of possibility.”

Mega Maker Lab for the Institute of Imagination by Matt+Fiona
Photo is by Mark Mercer

Along with giving the children a memorable experience MacDonald believes that the adults involved have gained a lot from the process.

“It is too easy – and actually misleading – to say that children’s imaginations are more creative than adults. However it is always refreshing to work with people who are starting from first principles. Co-design allows us to work with the people who are in fact the experts on the brief,” she said.

“The process of collaborating with children also seems to generate joy. Not only is that a wonderful thing in itself, but it should not be underestimated as a mechanism to make the previously impossible, possible – whether that be lack of funding, planning or any other challenge this competitive and highly-regulated industry faces.”

Mega Maker Lab for the Institute of Imagination by Matt+Fiona

The Mega Maker Lab is open throughout August.

Matt+Fiona is a collaboration between educator MacDonald and architect Springett, who is the principal of Matthew Springett Associates.

It has previously worked with children to create a playground room for children with autism and a green den with moving walls for a Hull allotment, which was shortlisted for a Dezeen Award in 2018.

Photography is by French + Tye unless stated.

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