1st February 2024

Hosn Houssami

Through my studies in architecture at the Part 1 and 2 levels, I found a keen interest in topic of social architecture, especially that pertaining to the design and construction of social infrastructure in developing and overpopulated cities. As part of my current PhD thesis at London Metropolitan University, I have been looking to examine how collaborative mapping and other creative processes can be adapted and developed to explore and represent local topographic and ethnographic context; different spatial and temporal narratives; and shared aspirations at both the local and city scale through an often underrepresented demographic – children. 

The topic of architectural co-production and the inclusion of children in such participatory practices is – and will continue to be – a global discourse. Although there are several countries that have systems built into their development models to account for the needs of children, the direct inclusion of children is often limited. Beirut, Lebanon, is a city that has borne significant physical and institutional changes due to its unique topographical landscape and everchanging socio-economic climate. Residents of the city rarely have their aspirations recognised by formal governmental planning, and it is often left to self-actualising local collectives to try to pursue this. I, myself, am Lebanese with parents both from Beirut and have seen these expansive changes and lack of governmental recourse first hand.

While my main research methodology involves extensive first-hand mapping across several scales – analysing not only the physical (topographical) at these scales, but also the individual social and ethnographic narratives embedded within them – I have chosen to cross reference the data produced with empirical research which has included participatory workshops within transitional settlements and certain demographics (particularly children) as the primary forum for narrative exchange.

To further situate my research, I chose to look at the two neighbours of Sabra and Karantina. While incredibly different in architecture composition and scales of populations, both neighbourhoods share common histories as well as being home to a range of demographics. In Karantina, I worked with the amazing team at CatalyticAction to provide the running of four workshops with local children.

This playground is the only thing for kids here.


The workshops were each designed to introduce children to fundamental principles of architecture, help them relate that within the context they already know, and then further from this to use their critical thinking and design skills to assess their neighbourhood and allow for conversations on aspirations for their town.

The Workshops:

  • Workshop 1 – Child Sized – An introduction to Architecture, a discussion and activity-based workshop designed to introduce the children to concepts of spatiality, shape, materials, and scale. 
  • Workshop 2 – My Town, Our Town – A group drawing activity where children were given the opportunity to develop their mapping skills by mapping their towns in a collaborative process.
  • Workshop 3 – My Street – A design activity where children are asked to ‘build’ different social structures and through collaborative discussions, co-design a street from the individual structures.  
  • Workshop 4 – My Dream Ground – A design activity where children were asked to design a social space.

There were several key steps that needed to be taken before the running of these workshops. Firstly, workshop training with a specific focus on child safeguarding. This was offered to me and ran by the team at CatalyticAction. Not only did this training session reaffirm safeguarding techniques, it also offered me the opportunity to experience how the team at CatalyticAction engage people in workshops. Techniques which offered me clarity of action when running my own workshops. Further from this, the workshops relied heavily of CatalyticAction’s thorough database of past participants and the help of local Citizen Scientist, Jana Al Saeed, to seek out interest. In the designing of the workshops, it was also important that the children participating represented the range of demographics within the neighbourhood. For this reason, of the 12 children invited to participate in the workshops, it was decided the list would be composed of an equal number of Lebanese and Syrian children, and also an equal split in gender.

Working with the selected children in Karantina, Beirut was a wonderful and thought provoking experience. While I have previously ran workshops in schools and after school clubs with children that have never previously taken part in such activities, as CatalyticAction have run numerous types of activities in the neighbourhood, I found that I was more easily able to get across the structure and point to of the activity. Additionally, the workshop outputs were more assessed and point driven. This verified for me that children should continuously be offered such activities, whether it be through their education provider or externally.  Children have a fundamental grasp on most topics but are rarely ever given chances to hone these thoughts and ideas. I found that working with the children in Karantina, they were able to describe social and structural issues within their neighbourhoods in a much clearer way than I had originally anticipated.

In saying this, there are several challenges that can occur when working not only with collaborative place-based research techniques, but with children generally.  As with any demographic children are not homogenous, and different workshop groups may resonate with different elements of certain workshops, enjoy and not enjoy parts, even down to the understanding the fundamental asks of a workshop will differ not only between groups but within each individual child, as previously noted. 

I found that with this particular focus group, the children enjoyed the workshops that incorporated 3D design elements, more than simple drawings, which meant that by Workshop 3 (which was originally a drawing exercise) I had to adapt my approach to best fit the children. Further from this, during the final workshop it was became increasingly evident that the boys understood the word ‘playground’ to mean ‘football pitch’, while the girls understood the term more clearly. In discussions with the children, I realised that this was because the majority of the boys ‘play’ time was situated on football pitches, whereas the girls, who are often not included in sports games, connotated the term to the playgrounds designed by CatalyticAction. 

While this was seemingly a small moment in a singular workshop, it expresses one of many socio-cultural issues that became evident over the course of the workshops. The workshops thus were not only highly engaging and enjoyable, but also thought-provoking in a way I had not previously anticipated. 

We can’t put the hospital next to the school… the loud kids will upset the sick patients.


I also must mention here how fundamental well-established connections to the community are in the smooth-running of such workshops. If not for CatalyticAction’s extensive work and links within the community of Karantina, the running of these workshops would have been near impossible. Not only from an administrative perspective but also when looking at the workshops themselves. Having members of the CatalyticAction team and Citizen Scientists from the neighbourhood itself provided a setting in which the children felt more comfortable expressing themselves, as most of the faces present other than mine were ones they were well acquainted with before. 

I hope to continue my research by developing a small-scale proposal based on the ideas of the children, and for their use. Further from this continuing to work alongside the wonderful members of CatalyticAction in future endeavours either directly or indirectly in the hopes of providing more community-led proposals in a country that means so much to me.

Thank you!

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