When a client walks into your office and asks you to design their house, it would be very rude to refuse. Even worse – if you refused their request based on their appearance. Or their ‘less than ideal’ public reputation. Or their eccentric, somewhat troubling collection of Cone Snails that are known to stalk the sea floor and deliver a lethal dose of venom. You pretty much have to work with who you get. No, you don’t get to trade clients with a friend. And no, not even if they agree.
This is precisely the situation kids face on Day 1 of Wicked Workshop. As we pass out the “client cards”, the giggling begins quietly, then blossoms into a room full of chitchat. Kids who are still waiting for their client card are undoubtedly wondering what’s so funny. Once everyone has a random client, we start talking about what an architect really does.
What if you “hate” your client? Well, that’s what happened to Josh. He got The Blue Mermaid. This card is (admittedly) one of the more obscure, less visually detailed. And, let’s face it, not exactly a 1st grade boy’s dream client. So, this was perfect. For me. Not for Josh.
I started the class with “Where do ideas come from?” Ideas are connected to things, connected to feelings, connected to one’s own interpretation. Ideas are connections and it’s the architect’s job to find or make those connections to arrive at a design solution that suits our client. I look over and Josh has tears in his eyes. It was the first time I had seen anyone look like they might break into tears at Wicked Workshop. “Miss Fifi, I hate my client.” Well, it wasn’t ideal, but we kept going, “Ideas can be generated from what you already know about something or someone.”
“Miss Fifi, I really, really don’t like my client.”
“Ok Josh, I understand, but give it a few minutes. You might find inspiration from somewhere. Where else can ideas come from?”
“TV!” another student answers.
“Absolutely. We definitely form opinions based on our culture and what’s around us. Books, television, the internet, our school, our friends…”
“Umm. I don’t want to make a house for this mermaid! I don’t even like mermaids.”
“I understand. I really do. You have no connection to that mermaid, right? She just walked (slithered?) into your office and kaboom! Now she’s your client. That’s quite a challenge! So, let’s talk about how to generate some ideas.”
Head hanging low, Josh wined “But I really REALLY don’t like the Blue Mermaid.”
“Can anyone think of how to build a cool house for a Blue Mermaid that you’ve never met?"
“I can!” says another student. “Just make an underwater cave with a lot of rocks and plants because mermaids like water.”
“Or a house on a beach with a pool that she can swim in!”
“Or a water mansion that goes all the way to the middle of the planet so she can hide from bad guys!”
“and hide all her human treasures!” (Thank you, Ariel)
So, it seems like everyone except Josh has at least some idea of where to start. But Josh is still slumped over, tears welling up and now dramatically frowning. Not exactly the Wicked Workshop I was hoping for. Yet, at the same time, it was. We talked about how we can use our colleagues as resources – I call it “Ask The Hive” and encourage kids to learn from each other’s ideas if they are struggling. Josh is not buying it.
Finally, the last magic idea-making tool for the day: Find inspiration in your site or your materials – where and with what will your house be built? I let the kids loose on the materials I brought and the usual mayhem ensued, as predicted. After a few minutes, I glanced over and saw Josh working. And working. And. Working.
By the end of class, Josh made an amazing habitat for his blue mermaid. It was, of course, blue. But it was all kinds of blue – from smooth navy blue glittery plastic walls to a furry aquamarine bed and soft blue canopy wrapping the walls and ceiling. And Josh was excited. He was absolutely amazed that he had made something worthwhile with “such a horrible client.” He was so proud of himself that he nearly attacked his dad when he came for pickup to show off his project.
This day has settled into my memory as a success story that I now tell all of my classes. It’s a reminder that we all find inspiration from different places and how hard it really is to push through something you don’t really like at first. I love how Josh turned that experience around by being open-minded enough to get out of his chair and explore the materials that day. He could have chosen to sit in his chair and cry. But he didn’t.
Negotiating what your hands can make with what you mind can dream is a huge challenge. Wicked Workshop classes are designed to introduce these barriers – sometimes big, sometimes small – to kids who don’t expect them. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don’t. What they do know is that there are Blue Mermaids everywhere and they have many choices on how to handle it.