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Architectural Spotlight

When children lead design, the tale of Coriandoline.

I came across an article today that had an interesting supposition about planning and neighbourhood design, for all our public consultations and all the research that is done on what the ideal family home or neighbourhood should be, we generally ignore the opinions of a significant group of inhabitants. The children, I mean what do they know after all? they ‘re just kids.


Back in 1990 a construction co-operative decided to listen to every one of the inhabitants that would live in the neighbourhood they were building, including the children, and that is how the idea for Coriandoline came about.

The project won the Peggy Guggenheim Prize for the most innovative project in 2001 and then the World Habitat Awards in 2002. To look at the neighbourhood that children built you get the feeling that the design was not constrained by the ideas that adults would simply take for granted. The paint job is one of the most striking aspects as the buildings are covered with the work of Italian painter, illustrator and set designer, Emanuele Luzzati.


The first phase of the project was essentially research and consultation with about 700 children from 12 local nursery and infant schools. Teachers, psychologists, architects, engineers, surveyors, builders and carpenters all spent time with the children to both teach them about architecture and neighbourhoods and also to learn from them.

Ilaria Ligabue was a 5 year old when the project started but remembers the process quite well. “We drew loads and gave free reign to our imagination. We even painted on real small wooden houses which became our play area. It was a great adventure for us kids.” S

The children came up with a list of essentials, after much collating and data processing by the adults and the Manifesto of Children’s Living Needs was published. The essential features were; transparent, hard outside, soft inside, playful, decorated, magical and peaceful.

“When we started the planning phase, we realised we faced an enormous risk. On the one hand we could have fallen into the trap of creating something banal – houses that looked just like all new houses, with token ‘corrections’ providing superficial concessions. On the other hand we could have gone to the opposite extreme and end up creating a sort of fairytale playground which had no meaning as a part of the town. We wanted to create an area which could be exploited and enjoyed by the whole community, but which used children’s experiences and needs as a parameter for quality.” S


The neighbourhood has ‘built in playability,’  the designers realised through their work, that in Italy the most common sign you see is ‘No Football Allowed’ or no playing allowed. In Cariandoline the entire neighbourhood is designed for play, from the covered garage areas that double as sheltered play areas, to the slides next to the stairs and the fun house mirrors in the elevators.

The sucess of this neighbourhood makes me wonder how much more enjoyable our cities would be if we listened to the children who live in them a little more.

If you would like to learn more about Coriandoline please visit the community’s online portal. Not surprisingly it is pretty fun to navigate.


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