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Birmingham courts young views

Eleanor Young

RIBA West Midlands is taking architecture to 11-25 year olds with its Youth Panel, inviting their views and bringing a fresh perspective to the buildings debate

RIBA West Midlands Youth Panel member Jia Samra.
RIBA West Midlands Youth Panel member Jia Samra. Credit: Harpal Samra

Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with 40% of its population under 25. It is also undergoing huge change with the arrival of HS2 catalysing development around the city.

The RIBA West Midlands Youth Panel in partnership with Birmingham City Council, and working with Birmingham Youth City Board,is one way that the city and the RIBA are reaching out beyond their older decision makers to engage young people about the built environment. This panel of 11-22 year olds is helping to bring a young voice to the city council. Each month the they visit different companies and businesses within the wider built environment to learn more about the architectural industry and how it affects the city of Birmingham as well as its surrounding areas.

We spoke to Jia Samra who is part of the panel.


Why did you get involved with the RIBA Youth Panel programme? 

I’ve always loved architecture. It is like the fashion of living. Seeing works of art like Grand Central shopping centre right here, manmade palm tree islands in Dubai and the historic streets of Barcelona inspired me to find a way to get involved in any way that I could.  When, thanks to a friend, I heard about this opportunity, I immediately jumped at the chance to be a part of the panel.

How have you found the programme so far?

I’ve found it quite insightful and feel as though I have become more alert to different styles of architecture.

I am new to the programme so I have only been on one visit so far, but I want to emphasise how welcoming everyone was and how my nervousness went away almost immediately; I was keen to express my opinions. We visited Eastside Projects which is an amazing building, with many eye catching things inside. There was a large feature wall with Indian heritage combined with art as well as many interactive games. It left a genuinely indelible impression.

What has been a highlight for you so far?

I think one of my favourites parts of this experience was the collaboration on an idea for a festival. It was set up like a mini competition and it was really enjoyable to brainstorm ideas. I also really liked how we had time to roam around and have a look at anything that interested us.

Has the programme so far changed your thoughts or perception on careers and opportunities within the wider built environment?

I’m still unsure as to what career path I’d like to take. However, I do feel I’m more aware of the process and considerations that go into crea uilding or any piece of art. What interests me most actually is interior design and the thought process behind it, as you have to consider things like form, function and fashion while also reflecting more widely on how to use the space and ensure the interior coexists well with the building itself.

Has the programme so far changed how you look at the architecture of your hometown?

I think I’m more aware of buildings from different time periods as well as the many styles of housing; there is a wide range of those styles just in Birmingham. For example, my own house is late Georgian and I can see these features through panelling, the window shapes and even the outside elevations.

What skills are you hoping to gain from the programme?

I'd like a better awareness of the more technical aspects of architecture; more specifically I’m keen to understand the technicalities involved in interior design. I would also like to understand other considerations that have to be brought to undertakings such as renovations or extensions, and with listed homes how to deal with improvements without obscuring or damaging the history of a building.

Given what you know now, what advice would you give other young people who might be interested in a career in the built environment? 

I would advise them to join clubs or programmes like this to gain deeper understanding of architecture, and also to take an interest in their own towns or homes to become more aware of their own environment. By doing that they could ascertain whether it was a passion of theirs and then have a further look into the many career opportunities they could take. Furthermore, for me personally, attending exhibitions like Grand Designs and the Furniture Show helped my passion for design flourish.

For updates on the journey of the youth panel group, follow RIBA West Midlands on LinkedIn or Instagram



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