Little house of big ideas

Want new solutions? Ask a new audience.

By David Tickle with photography by James Horan

Urban planners and designers are always looking at how to make our cities more liveable for future generations. Yet tomorrow’s city-makers – today’s children – are rarely asked what they think.

Will they live in houses or apartments? Will they use private vehicles or public transport? What will draw them to a city – and make them stay?

We decided to find out. And what we discovered was that little people have some big ideas about our cities. Their outlook is refreshing and progressive – and worth a listen.

Image: James Horan
Image: Archikidz


Hassell teamed up with international not-for-profit group, Archikidz, and the Sydney Living Museums on a playful project to give kids a voice on the future shape of our cities.

In Sydney, we created PLAY[ground] – a collection of interactive installations to inspire tomorrow’s thinkers, planners and decision makers to experiment and toy with ideas about the urban environment.

One of the installations – Little houses, BIG IDEAS’ – was based on the much-loved wooden cubby house, with a twist: Kids were invited to cover the space with their thoughts on cities of the future. Over the course of the three-day event, the walls and ceilings were adorned with hundreds of vibrant drawings and interesting ideas, which we grouped into five common themes (below).

The kids gave us ideas without boundaries – an approach that can teach even the most seasoned urban designers and planners a valuable lesson. After all, isn’t great design about dreaming big?


Not surprisingly, kids thought a lot about their own homes – and the types of places they’d like to live in the future. Homes below the ocean, homes in the sky, homes on wheels. Their places were technology-enabled, ready to take on any family, any lifestyle, any situation. Except for Kai’s house: he wanted to live in a tree with birds.

Kids were fascinated by how we move in cities too. Most of them saw the car as a problem – creating noise, pollution and congestion. Instead, they wanted to see jetpacks, slippery dips and flying trains – transport that’s engaging, flexible and sustainable. In one city, all the buildings were made of rubber, so you could bounce all the way to New York!

Like many kids, Meredith pointed out that buildings are getting bigger and rooms are getting smaller”. That means our cities rely on common places to play, relax, run and have fun. Many drawings were full of parks and rivers and playgrounds and wildlife – all parts of a healthy, happy city.

Kids see cities as places where everyone’s included and equal – something for everyone”, as Sage said. They hate to see signs of inequality, like homelessness and poverty. Anisa had a great solution: she invented a dream home” that takes all of her money (made from drawing amazing pictures, of course!), empties it into a pool with a scoop, and then distributes it to poor people – making everyone happy.

Kids understand many of the social, technological and ecological issues facing cities, but they still think there needs to be a focus on fun. We saw hotels made of dreams, buildings created out of chocolate and ice cream (cold climates only!) and cities with random swirls of colour in the air”. We could all only ask: why not?

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