Architecture and Minecraft: Will The Popular Game Bring New Talent To Architecture and Construction?

We are used to the relentless narrative about keeping children off ‘mind-rotting’ computer games. They’ve been blamed for everything from dwindling social skills and isolation to child obesity and academic failure. But there is one game out there which is showing consistent potential for educating our children with skills that will be assets to them in the job market of tomorrow.

At its most basic, Minecraft can be seen as a kind of digital Lego. Its painfully pixelated graphics take us back to the early nineties (or even earlier), which can be puzzling for parents who grew up dreaming of better graphics for their video games. But despite the retro graphics, kids absolutely love Minecraft.

Using a selection of blocks, such as dirt, cobblestone, glass, quartz, and wood, players can create structures and environments from the very basic up to sophisticated urban cities. In the past, collaborative efforts have built replicas of Hogwarts, Middle Earth, and even real-life cities such as London. The creative possibilities are seemingly endless.

The game can be played in ‘creative mode’ which simply allows a player to construct their world choosing from a range of biospheres. However, a popular choice is to play in ‘survival mode’, in which players have 20 minute days to build shelter, gather resources and weapons, and strategise their plan for the night ahead – when the Minecraft monsters come out. Either way, whilst being a fun and imaginative experience, there is also a huge amount of educational potential to be had.

Architecture and Minecraft | VMI Studio

Between 2018 and 2023, it is expected that 400,000 construction workers in the UK alone will retire. This enormous figure is worrying; will there be enough new blood to fill the void? The need to attract a new generation of construction professionals is pressing.

Enter Minecraft. Yes, really. Let’s look at the skills that can be developed using the game.

1. Visuospatial Reasoning

Minecraft helps children to improve their visual perception of objects. These skills are key to the development of abstract thinking and problem solving, assisting with the ability to answer maths and science equations effectively, and vastly improving the speed at which they can answer these questions.

2. Setting and Completing Goals

Whilst the majority of games have milestones that need to be reached in order to progress to the next level, these milestones are set and accomplished by the child themselves within the game. The drive to finish a project forces them to identify their own goals, and to develop their own strategies in order to achieve them. The skill of self-management and self-regulation help to build an autonomous individual who can manage her own time and workload effectively, and without prompting.

3. Geometry

Whilst this skill isn’t an overt factor in Minecraft (it’s pretty much right angles or bust), the use of shapes and space will come in handy when they come to tackle geometric problems in their schoolwork.

4. Autonomy and Confidence

In a world where children are constantly learning that their ability to take on certain tasks is limited by their age, Minecraft puts them in control of their environment. The sheer complexity of what children as young as nine can achieve in Minecraft proves that they can achieve just as much as their adult counterparts, and succeed with their own projects.

5. Co-operation

It is possible for kids to play the game in multiplayer mode, allowing them to collaborate on a particular project. This is a vital skill to learn, particularly for those who will grow into architects and construction professionals. Teamwork is, of course, central to the working world, so learning to come together and share minds to achieve a common goal in a digital environment is a key skill to learn for the increasingly virtual world.

The ability to co-operate in-game has also been found to help strengthen social bonds with peers. Rather than being limited to the ‘geeks’, there is wide appeal across different social groups. This allows kids to overcome social struggles, coming together to share knowledge and common interests.

Architecture and Minecraft | VMI Studio

Architecture and Minecraft In Schools

Educators have been quick to identify the possibilities that Minecraft has for enhancing children’s education. Mojang (the makers of Minecraft – now owned by Microsoft) have responded accordingly, developing the Minecraft: Education Edition, for use in schools and similar educational environments.

Classes play in a secure environment limited to the classroom community, collaborating on projects or working alone. They can create their own ‘portfolios’ of the structures they have created for sharing in class discussions.

The package also includes a wide range of teaching materials, including lesson plans, to allow teachers to get the most out of the platform and to engage kids most.

One interesting module that caught our eye was ‘Learning Economics With Minecraft: Productive Resources’. In this lesson, children are encouraged to learn about the definition of resources, and how to understand the economic world around us through the production of desirable goods and services: human, natural, and capital. There is a range of resources available in Minecraft, ones that are principally used in ‘survival mode’, which can be tradable within the game.

Architecture and Minecraft | VMI Studio

But What About Architecture and Minecraft?

A global team of architects, animators, and designers, named ‘BlockWorks’ are bringing together architecture and Minecraft in a range of projects in media, gaming, and education. Director, James Delaney, explains:

“The team evolved from four of us playing creative Minecraft online as a game. We began to build on a larger scale and level of detail, and it soon became apparent Minecraft had potential as a serious design tool.”

The online collaboration and sharing capabilities in Minecraft are reminiscent of BIM (Building Information Modelling). In the same way that BIM allows architects, designers, clients, and end users to exchange information on a project in progress, so too does Minecraft. The game, therefore, is essentially teaching children the principles of BIM from primary school age.

Equally, the game can encourage a more democratic outlook to creating architecture and city design.

“These fictional worlds empower people with the tools to transform their own environments,” explains Bjarke Ingels, founding principal of the firm BIG. “This is what architecture ought to be.”

In the US, the Chicago Architectural Foundation is offering Minecraft summer camps for 7 to 18-year-olds. In Utah, an after-school education centre is offering Minecraft architecture classes.

“Whilst the architects of today grew up playing with LEGO, I have no doubt the next generation will have played Minecraft,” Delaney says. “People have to stop thinking of it as a game. It’s a CAD tool, and as such, it is the most widely used one in the world. We’re looking forward to bridging the gaps between design and reality.”