In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children, Young People, and Architecture

  • Introduction
  • City as Context
  • History
  • An Overview of Children’s Spaces
  • Participation in the Design Process
  • Appropriation of Space
  • Children’s Architecture Education

Childhood Studies Children, Young People, and Architecture
Rosie Parnell, Maria Patsarika
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0223


Defining the scope of children, young people, and architecture as a field is an interesting challenge, since architecture draws on the theories and knowledge of a wide range of disciplines to inform its own understandings. Scale also comes into question: architecture can be understood to be strategic as well as haptic; sociocultural and political as well as experiential and material. This article focuses primarily on architecture as design and social process, with a spatial product. Work in this field, as delimited, can be grouped into five areas: children’s spaces as product, the impact of built environment on children, design participation process, appropriation of space, and children’s architectural education. However, architecture as a discipline has not yet created a substantial scholarly body of work on any topic within this field, except perhaps for school design. Work related to children, young people, and architecture exists within Oxford Bibliographies at the scale of the city, neighborhood, and landscape—including school grounds (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles in Childhood Studies “Children and the Environment”; “Children’s Geographies”; “Geographies of Children and Childhood”; and “The Spaces of Childhood”. A selection of work addressing the city scale is included here as a context essential to the critical development and understanding of the spatial designer and architectural researcher. The work of historians—primarily centering on schools—is followed by sources that provide An Overview of Children’s Spaces, before moving on to specific Typologies of Space (see also the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Childhood Studies “Children’s Museums”. The Participation in the Design Process section broadly considers spatial design process with children, where researcher-practitioners from a range of disciplines have made significant contributions. The Impact of the Built Environment on children as occupiers, or “users,” is considered in two separate realms: Health and Well-Being and Academic Performance and Student Behavior. Since the process of creating architecture is here understood to continue beyond design, into inhabitation, children’s creation of space through Appropriation of Space is given separate attention. Finally, the growing subfield of Children’s Architecture Education—or, more broadly, built environment education—is scoped through the few scholarly articles and book chapters that have emerged in recent years. In summary, this is a young field, as reflected in the lack of textbooks, anthologies, and journals dedicated specifically to children, young people, and architecture. There is great potential for architecture, including its design- and practice-based research methods, to make further contributions to understandings of childhood and its relationship to space.

City as Context

Although the city scale is not the focus of this article, there are some seminal texts that have nevertheless informed the ethos and theoretical underpinnings of this field and are therefore essential reading for anyone wishing to theorize and position their own contributions. The texts exemplify some of the key discourse and dominant conceptualizations of children and childhood present in the field. Lynch 1977 and Ward 1978 represent an important shift for architecture toward understanding children as beings, subjects, and participants, as opposed to becomings, objects, and recipients. This shift laid the ground for the later emergence of the Child-Friendly Cities movement, here explored at the policy and planning level by Gleeson and Sipe 2006 and through practical guidance offered by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre 2004. Although various texts have critiqued relevant urban policy, these have tended to focus on a particular place and moment in time, making any selection difficult to justify. The Child-Friendly Cities movement by contrast, sets out principles intended to inform policy globally. However, readers interested in policy and its impact on children’s architecture and related experience will find that it is touched upon in a range of the texts in this article. The Child-Friendly Cities movement is particularly strongly driven by a rights-based agenda, which overlaps, but is not always synonymous with, the vision of coexistence espoused by Ward 1978, for example. The edited volume Growing Up in An Urbanising World (Chawla 2002) revisits and extends Lynch 1977, with a strong theoretical argument and rationale, documenting participatory research and action across all scales of architecture. By contrast, the edited volume Christensen and O’Brien 2003 offers a range of disciplinary perspectives on children’s lives in the contemporary city, examining what are interpreted here to be the conditions for children’s experience of architecture. Finally, Bishop and Corkery 2017 looks at the policies, initiatives, and practices of designing cities with children and young people across a range of scales of architecture.

  • Bishop, Kate, and Linda Corkery. Designing Cities with Children and Young People: Beyond Playgrounds and Skate Parks. London: Routledge, 2017.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315710044

    Centering on process, chapters span issues of understanding, planning, and collaborating in design. The editors expand beyond “child-centered” environments, emphasizing, for example, the significance of public space in children’s lives. Four sections focus respectively on global and regional initiatives, research, legislation and policy, and researcher/practitioner perspectives on participatory practices. Landscape architect Fiona Robbe draws on her experience to offer rare insight into participatory design process from the spatial designer’s perspective.

  • Chawla, Louise, ed. Growing Up in An Urbanising World. London: Earthscan, 2002.

    A seminal text documenting the revived 1970s project Growing Up in Cities (Lynch 1977). The book describes the processes and findings of participatory research with children in eight countries across five continents, exploring experiences and perceptions of their own environments. Led by an interdisciplinary team of experts, each project shared open, exploratory beginnings, moving toward communication to local and regional authorities of children’s experiences and priorities for action.

  • Christensen, Pia, and Margaret O’Brien, eds. Children in the City: Home, Neighbourhood and Community. London: Routledge Falmer, 2003.

    The contributors to this edited book offer a range of disciplinary perspectives on children’s lives in contemporary cities, from anthropology to geography and psychology. The editors argue that understanding how children see the city is essential to creating “cities for all” and making change within a child-sensitive framework. Broadly falling under childhood studies rather than architecture, collectively the chapters offer powerful insights into the conditions affecting children’s relationships with architecture.

  • Gleeson, Brendan, and Neil Sipe, eds. Creating Child Friendly Cities: Reinstating Kids in the City. London: Routledge, 2006.

    Drawing primarily on work in Australia and New Zealand, the chapters offer a useful overview of the Child-Friendly Cities agenda and the barriers and opportunities associated with its integration into policy and action. The book is primarily written from/for a policy and planning perspective and is therefore important in providing descriptions and critique (often centered on neoliberalism) of the sociopolitical context that should inform relevant architectural strategy and design.

  • Lynch, Kevin, ed. Growing Up in Cities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977.

    Resulting from the UNICEF sponsored project Growing up in Cities, this book documents the findings of research with children in Argentina, Australia, Mexico, and Poland. Kevin Lynch compares the findings of mapping activities and interviews with children in each city, revealing and—significantly—valuing their experiences of everyday spaces and places. Despite contrasting built environments in varied social, economic, and cultural contexts, Lynch draws out the commonalities across children’s experiences.

  • UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre. Building Child Friendly Cities: A Framework for Action. Florence: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2004.

    This is a practical guide and checklist that aims to provide a strategy for child-friendly cities to national and local governments. The guide is presented in light of the increasing urbanization of global societies, decentralization, and municipal and community responsibilities. Children’s participation is highlighted as a key component of inclusive frameworks for child-friendly initiatives.

  • Ward, Colin. The Child in the City. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978.

    In his unsentimental depiction of children’s everyday lives in cities, anarchist, architect, and environmental educator Colin Ward, portrays what he calls “the intensity, variety and ingenuity of the experience of urban childhood” (p. viii). This edition includes powerful photographs by Golzen, offering visual detail to complement rich accounts and reflections. For spatial designers, the book is a reminder of children’s resourcefulness and playfulness and the importance of the built environment in affording possibilities.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.