DESIGNING CHILDREN'S THEATRES IS ABOUT MORE THAN BRIGHT COLOURS
Back in 1996, the AJ ran a children's issue, where we invited young people to review buildings which had been designed specifically with children in mind. Despite everybody's best efforts, it was a deeply unappetising issue: lumpen education buildings; soul-destroying children's wards; token attempts to introduce 'childfriendliness' with the random application of coloured flags. (The one high point of the issue was a series of interviews with children living in homes designed by their architect parents and the revelation that Norman Foster's son would rather live in 'a normal house like the one across the road'). The paucity of decent images was such that the cover was given over to an image of a skateboarder performing a death-defying manoeuvre in front of the Design Museum, which subsequently chided the AJ for encouraging anti-social behaviour.
What a difference a decade makes. Our greatest architects are designing schools and city academies. Haworth Tompkins and Keith Williams have demonstrated that designing children's theatres is about a whole lot more than the liberal application of brightly coloured paint.
Zaha Hadid has completed a science centre in Wolfsburg which is radical, heroic, sophisticated - and designed primarily with children in mind.
The one recurring criticism among the otherwise effusive reviews is that its dramatic undercroft is likely to encourage skateboarders. Why that is seen as a failing is not entirely clear. Hadid's brief was to make a strong contribution to the city's civic space. The concession (inadvertent or otherwise) to skateboarders could be taken as evidence of a realistic understanding of what teenagers really require of the public realm.
The brutal beauty of both Hadid's Phaeno Science Centre ( www. ajplus. co. uk) and Williams' Unicorn Theatre (pages 23-35) is testament to the conviction that children deserve architecture which is thoroughly grown up.