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DOING IS BELIEVING

There’s no better way to learn geometry and mathematics than from making 3-D shapes. Image Credits: Tate Modern 2016 Photo Noa Haim

LITTLE BY LITTLE

Noa Haim creates interlockable structures that volunteers can use to create something. Image Credits: Kota Tua Creative Festival 2015 Photo Wendy Pratama

Social learning by creating together is at the heart of Haim’s work. Image Credits: National Art Gallery Albania 2015 Photo Alla Simacheva

EASE PEASY

The Collective Paper Aesthetics has fine tuned its material to be easy to work with. Image Credits: National Art Gallery Albania 2015 Photo Alla Simacheva

EVERYONE’S WELCOME

There’s something for all age groups – from 7 year olds to grandparents at Haim’s ‘play pop-ups.’ Image Credits: National Art Gallery Albania 2015 Photo Alla Simacheva

BUILDING UP

Haim has turned musems into playgrounds and believes every child can be an architect. Image Credits: Cade Museum 2019 Photo David Chan

DREAM BIG

The end result is usually gigantic installations created by volunteers. Image Credits: Cade Museum 2019 Photo David Chan

MODEL MAKING

The design enterprise is always fine-tuning its system working with new designs and materials. Image Credits: Cade Museum 2019 Photo David Chan

PLAY & LEARN

Children can learn about geometry, mathematics and art while they build. Image Credits: National Art Gallery Albania 2015 Photo Alla Simacheva

FROM THE HEART

One of Haim’s most loved pieces is the Heart Pyramid shape. Image Credits: Phaeno Science Center 2017 Photo Tim Dalhoff

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Lab 19 Feb 2019

Fair Play: Architect Noa Haim uses participatory architecture models to teach children

Collective Paper Aesthetics collaborates with volunteers who cut, fold and create paper and cardboard pieces to make gigantic architectural models. The design firm’s ‘Play Pop-Ups’ are a huge draw for children who learn while they build.

As a young girl, among Noa Haim’s stuffed fluffy toys were construction toys brought back by her father who travelled to Scandinavia on work often. Haim remembers many afternoons spent building something from these light wooden pieces. Today, decades later, Haim provides interlocking pieces of materials to volunteers who create impressive larger-than-life modular constructions with them.

DOING IS BELIEVING

There’s no better way to learn geometry and mathematics than from making 3-D shapes. Image Credits: Tate Modern 2016 Photo Noa Haim

While the Dutch designer works on the ‘system’– it’s the volunteers, often children, who will actually build her art works using the raw material Haim creates. They cut, fold and make small geometric boxes that can be interlocked to create something bigger. It is from this idea of creating together that the name of her design start up, Collective Paper Aesthetics (CPA) was inspired.

Haim’s participatory activities have been held in museums, malls and public spaces. Her work has been featured in top museums including CADE, Florida; Tate Modern, London; National Gallery, Singapore; Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Strasbourg; and the Louvre, Abu Dhabi among others.

LITTLE BY LITTLE

Noa Haim creates interlockable structures that volunteers can use to create something. Image Credits: Kota Tua Creative Festival 2015 Photo Wendy Pratama

Social learning by creating together is at the heart of Haim’s work. Image Credits: National Art Gallery Albania 2015 Photo Alla Simacheva

The Foundation of Collective Paper Aesthetics

She looks back at her first modular project in 2008 – she made a bus journey all the way from Rotterdam to London carrying 2000 pieces of interlocking paper boxes to participate in the London Festival of Architecture. “There was no other way I could transport the pieces,” she says. She created the first of her works – a participatory interpretation of her student thesis at the Berlage Institute, Rotterdam, based on Buckminster Fuller’s 1961 patent, the octet truss.

EASE PEASY

The Collective Paper Aesthetics has fine tuned its material to be easy to work with. Image Credits: National Art Gallery Albania 2015 Photo Alla Simacheva

EVERYONE’S WELCOME

There’s something for all age groups – from 7 year olds to grandparents at Haim’s ‘play pop-ups.’ Image Credits: National Art Gallery Albania 2015 Photo Alla Simacheva

Over the years, Haim has worked closely with educational wings of museums to create ‘Play Pop-Ups’ that today constitute the bulk of her work. Children are given piles or packets of interlocking pieces to build from. Sometimes there is an end pattern provided, but most of the time, the activity is open-ended and anything can be created. Younger children form basic shapes, while older ones help connect the dots and build bigger models.

The idea is that every child can be an architect, every child can be a designer and every child can be an engineer

Building with hands as a tool for learning

This kind of play-cum-learning is the ‘opposite of trendy,’ says Haim. “It’s low-tech, you’re off the internet, don’t need a gadget and you’re doing something with your hands.” These pop-ups are opportunities for social learning – children can learn together, families can build together.

BUILDING UP

Haim has turned musems into playgrounds and believes every child can be an architect. Image Credits: Cade Museum 2019 Photo David Chan

It’s also a creative tool for learning STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). “The idea is that every child can be an architect, every child can be a designer and every child can be an engineer,” says Haim.

Last year, her work ‘HEART board pyramid’ was a finalist in SXSWEDU’s ‘Learn by Design’ awards that recognises works that explore the role of physical learning environments and their ability to impact learning.

DREAM BIG

The end result is usually gigantic installations created by volunteers. Image Credits: Cade Museum 2019 Photo David Chan

Fine-tuning modular designs

Over the years CPA has been fine-tuning its work with help from a research company in the south of Holland. After every event, the system is analysed to see how things can be tweaked. Sometimes, small, precise changes have a big impact, says Haim.

MODEL MAKING

The design enterprise is always fine-tuning its system working with new designs and materials. Image Credits: Cade Museum 2019 Photo David Chan

PLAY & LEARN

Children can learn about geometry, mathematics and art while they build. Image Credits: National Art Gallery Albania 2015 Photo Alla Simacheva

The choice sometimes is between kinds of paper and cardboards of difference thicknesses. In a 2018 project in Miami, Florida, Haim tried plastic as a new material for her project. The CPA is also looking at aluminum as a building material in the future with the French furnishing company, Tôlerie Forézienne.

These pop-ups are opportunities for social learning – children can learn together, families can build together.

In Taiwan, Haim enjoyed putting together a colossal windmill robot of recycled cardboard. A few weeks later, she received news that the robot had crumbled.

It is important that the systems should be sturdy enough to last for a month or two in museums. Connections need to be easily disassembled, but not so flimsy that they fall off. For volunteers, they must be easy to put in and pull out.

Over the last decade, the pop up activities have been becoming more efficient. In Haim’s latest project at the CADE museum, Gainesville, Florida, participants can create an eye catcher in 45 minutes with 50 foldable, 3D geometric pieces that will form polyhedron structures. This is a marked improvement from earlier models where eight participants would need an entire day to create a 250-piece cardboard structure.

It is important that the systems should be sturdy enough to last for a month or two in museums.

Among Haim’s favourite shapes is the ‘heart pyramid’ she created inspired by American architect John Jerde’s motto ‘Making Places People Love’. She first used these heart shaped boxes at the Shenzhen Biennale in China in 2010 and later in Luxembourg, where the idea was to create furniture using her pieces.

FROM THE HEART

One of Haim’s most loved pieces is the Heart Pyramid shape. Image Credits: Phaeno Science Center 2017 Photo Tim Dalhoff

Collaborating means you never know how a piece will turn out or how volunteers will react to it. One of Haim’s public installations in Brooklyn was doing well, until some children began efforts to destroy it. She took advantage of their energy and roped them in to dismantle the piece, before donating it to the Children’s Museum in Manhattan.

“Learning must be accessible, I want to take my work to formal education systems and neighbourhoods,” says Haim who is doing just that, one play-pop at a time.

You can see more work by the Collective Paper Aesthetics here.

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