Petit Architect at IDS

September 12, 2019
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Empowering and unleashing children’s creativity through the lens of architecture and design

What would our living environments look like if kids were inspired and empowered to think about design that is more welcoming and cities that are more sustainable? The idea that the next generation of architects and designers can become inspired today to shape a better tomorrow is at the crux of Petit Architect. The brainchild of Maïa Tarassoff, Petit Architect offers a curriculum focused on sustainability, social impact and energy efficiency with hands-on workshops at after-school programs for kids from Kindergarten to grade 12.


As part of this year’s Youth Programming at IDS, Maïa and Petit Architect will be offering two separate half-day workshops for kids aged 8-12 and 10-14. During the sessions, kids will be introduced to the concepts of eco-neighbourhoods, density, social diversity mix and sustainability, and learn about what consumes energy in a building, why we need to lower our energy consumption, and how we can do so.

We chatted with Maïa about architecture, education and the responsibility to inspire kids to engage with the world in which we live.

Tell me about Petit Architect. When and why did you launch the company?
After 12 years at different architecture and interior design firms, and after having my second child, I decided I needed to work part time and to do something that didn’t involve sitting at a computer all day.

I have always had a passion for education and alternative methods such as Montessori or Reggio, and have loved making models and crafts while back in university or with my kids. And so in 2017, I decided to combine my two passions, architecture and education, and started teaching architecture to kids. After one year of doing these workshops, I created Petit Architect with a mission to make architecture more accessible to kids and families.

Can you explain what Passive House means and why it’s important to introduce the concept to kids?
Passive House is the most rigorous and widely applied building standard for energy efficient building. It first emerged as a building design approach in Canada in the ’70s and became most popular in northern Europe starting in the late ’90s. It consists of building a very energy efficient building that consumes around 90% less energy than a standard building. The City of Vancouver is currently changing its Building Bylaw to target zero green gas emissions for all new buildings in 2030. Passive house and net zero buildings will be the norm in the very near future, that’s why I think it’s important to introduce these concepts to our kids.

When working with kids, how do you go about making architecture more approachable and engaging?
Architecture and design are part of their everyday lives. However, most kids don’t necessarily know what design or architecture is, and that every object they use or every place they go to has been imagined, drawn, designed, evaluated and created by someone. Once they know that, they can open their eyes to all the design that’s around them and start thinking and engaging with the world they live in in a very different way.

How do you teach kids the concept of what a city is and what makes one city more liveable than another?
My approach is very hands-on. With the eco-neighborhood workshop, we explore how to build a city that is more friendly for the planet but also for the people living in it. We talk about density and heights, circulation, transportation, energy… but also comfort, social aspects and how to include everyone in a city. The kids become planners and architects and decide what type of buildings and functions they want in their neighbourhood. Then they build a big model together.

What roles do eco-friendly practices and sustainable design play in the workshops you lead/teach and why do you think it’s important to introduce these concepts to young children?
Sustainability and social impact are always a component in my workshops or in my work as a designer, as I believe in the architect’s role in making a community more livable. More than 50% of our CO2 emissions worldwide comes from buildings, specifically due to heating and cooling. I want to educate the children so they understand what consumes energy in a city, why and how we can do better and what they can change in their lives to make an impact. I want them to know that we already are capable of building very energy efficient buildings and that the future is hopeful.

What tools do you hope to give children in these workshops to help them understand what it means to become good citizens and to empower them to become involved in their cities?
Design is a very powerful tool. I want to empower them to become makers and thinkers, not just users in their cities. Shaping them into citizens who engage in a more thoughtful and conscious way with their city, whether it’s now or in the future as voters, designers, or even politicians.

How important do you think it is to introduce kids to architecture and design at an early age? And what are the benefits?
Obviously, I think it is very important to introduce kids to design and architecture early on and get them involved and exposed as much as possible. “The alternative to good design is always bad design. There is no such thing as no design.” In a very technology-oriented world, I want to promote creativity, design, concept thinking, and hands-on making. The opportunities for our children to cut, glue or build with their hands are more and more rare. I think these skills will be valuable in the future and that designers and makers will continue to have a critical role to play in shaping a more sustainable and eco-friendly future. If I can spark an interest and open their eyes and minds to the design in their lives, my day is made.

Sign up your kid for a Youth Program workshop at IDS here.