Neil Pinder: Graveney School

Neil Pinder

Neil Pinder is head of Product Design and Architecture at Graveney School. He has been involved in the project since its inception and has use it as a tool to teach the students about design, creativity and architecture. On top of this Neil actively promotes diversity in architectural education and the built environment through several organisation and initiatives such as Celebrating Architectue, Homegrown Plus and GLAM

Neil Pinder: Graveney School

What are you trying to achieve and why?

I’m trying to encourage, support and enthuse creative talent from young people from non-traditional and traditional backgrounds into the creative industries, primarily architecture and engineering. I want to give everyone the opportunity to achieve their true potential. For too long people from diverse backgrounds who are talented, have not had a fair opportunity or access to knowledge or support to enable them to navigate their way through the system – they do not have a network of contacts to open doors for them.

What’s your business model?

Our model is to work at grass roots level from Key Stage 1 primary school to Key Stage 5 upper sixth form level, designing and delivering creative architectural workshops. These are delivered through ‘Celebrating Architecture’ and ‘Urban Learners’, supported by the GLA, the Architecture Foundation, and several leading architectural practices. The result is architects working alongside educators to inspire and enthuse young learners from all backgrounds.

How do you measure success?

We measure our success by the growing number of schools and young people who are taking our programmes, going to university to study architecture, and ultimately having successful careers. Our alumni who want to come back and work with us as mentors, coaches and teachers. Our projects are expanding so we are successfully reaching more young people, some of whom have never heard of architecture, or never dreamt they could be one. Furthermore, the increasing number of high-profile architecture practices who want to work with us is a measure of success for us.

How did you get where you are today?

Hard work. I went to the Camberwell School of Art and I had a passion for teaching, diversity and architecture. I volunteered for 15 years with the London Open House as a steward and guide, and became a trustee of the Stephen Lawrence Trust to promote architecture to minority students. I have also been a product design and art teacher for over 30 years.

Who inspired you at school?

My art teacher Norman Barwick, who was also an art director at the Questors Theatre. He recognised that I had artistic talent and encouraged me to explore all forms of art, and educated me about art that I never knew existed. He encouraged and supported my application to Camberwell Art School. Working with Victoria Thornton at London Open House was another inspiration. She made the connection between product design and architecture, and made it acceptable for my students to enter architectural competitions.

What lessons have you learned?

To infiltrate the architectural world as an educator, you need people who are architects to open doors through their contacts, and use the right language. You need people who believe in you and encourage you no matter what level you are. You need others to put their time, energy and knowledge into your projects who can also support the projects financially.

What advice would you give your younger self?

It takes time, energy, passion, and a network of supporters. Never give up and always believe in your dream. Keep changing and keep a young mind.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in trying to do your job?

Getting financial support to enable the projects to go ahead. Getting institutions to recognise they need to change for the future sustainability of architecture and the built environment. They need the talent of a diverse population to have their say in how the community should be designed and developed.

What’s next for you?

To enthuse more young people from diverse backgrounds into architecture; to extend the Celebrating Architecture and other workshops to more universities, colleges and schools around the country and to further extend the programme to other countries; to expand the mentoring scheme to include prominent architects and academics; to develop more creative projects, and expand our online learning platform and also to expand our Homegrown Plus Alumni membership.

What’s Homegrown Plus?

Homegrown Plus is an agency that will promote and champion young architects/creatives from non-traditional and traditional backgrounds. It will be a place where architectural firms of all sizes can come to source the best talent available from across the community. But this is more than a talent agency. Homegrown Plus will support its talent once it’s in the market place and work with employers to mitigate any issues that may arise from working across an acknowledged cultural divide. I also believe that the focus should be on outcomes, not merely the box-ticking mentality that quotas and percentages encourage. Employing minority workers should be seen not as a concession given but an advantage gained.

Oh! And there’s GLAM goes global, too.

And what’s that?

GLAM is acronym for ‘Gucci, Louis Vuitton Architecture and Me. To quote Professor Hariett Harriss, Dean, of the Pratts institute for Architecture, New York, ‘this is a Trojan horse’. Popular culture has traditionally been influenced by the designs of iconic brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton fashion houses have given us the designer shops, designer lifestyle, and must have attitude; but the tongue-in-cheek parodying of counterfeit culture (known as Bootlegs) is a trend that has gained popularity in recent years. Fakes have gone from fashion faux pas to must-haves. Street culture is influencing the catwalk and vice versa, the lines of brand-consumer dynamics are being blurred.

Why are we doing this? Through this popular culture, we can attract and enthuse young creatives to learn about architecture, and engineering either those choosing university courses or university students wanting to belong to a community of like-minded people. We think of GLAM working like the “Trojan horse” because they’re enticed by the ‘glitzy’ name and don’t realise the magnitude of the power of what they’re doing until they are fully immersed in the programme. Young creatives from non-traditional and traditional backgrounds feel comfortable, and for the first time in their lives they’re in a creative environment surrounded by people who look and think like them.

On 17th/18th July 2021, we hosted GLAM’s third global sustainable wearable architectures-fashion Zoom workshop, where it’s family of global students from the Americas, South Africa, India, Europe and the UK, participated — all free of charge. Stay tuned for more to come!

More from Issue 03