by Richard McPartland
The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) are among the organisations who have been quick to seize upon the opportunities afforded by Minecraft to enthuse a new wave of construction professionals.
With the industry's skills shortage well documented, the move to engage virtual constructors on their 'home turf' is savvy.
Here we explore the Minecraft phenomenon and look at the latest resources for architecture and construction industry professionals.
What is Minecraft anyway?
Minecraft has a significant following among 12-14 year olds who have flocked to the 'sandbox' video game in droves since it was first released back in 2009.
The aim of the game being to dig (mine) and build (craft) an assortment of 3D blocks in a virtual world of varying habitats and terrain.
What are the educational applications of Minecraft?
While Minecraft's origins may have been in 'fun' many educators have seized upon the opportunities to use the platform to teach - subjects as diverse as computer science programming, chemistry and physics can all potentially be delivered via the online environment. There's even a special Education Edition.
As evidence of just how flexible a platform Minecraft is, consider a game like Tate Worlds, which presents virtual environments inspired by artworks from the museum's collection.
Such is the flexibility that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland has gone so far as to equip 200 schools (and thus 50,000 schoolchildren) with free licences with the aim of inspiring creative writing and engaging youngsters in city planning.
With the industry's skills shortage well documented, the move to engage virtual constructors on their home turf is savvy.
Minecraft applications for architecture and construction
As you'd expect from a game focussed on creating, architecture and construction are well represented when it comes to lessons and downloadable content.
Craft Your Future from CIOB
The CIOB offer 16 hours worth of lessons that teachers and construction professionals can use in the classroom as part of the Craft Your Future programme.
The lessons are aimed at 12 to 14 year olds and all take place in the virtual Minecraft city of Newtown. Participants must design, plan, collaborate and build solutions to secure a sustainable future for all its inhabitants.
There's also the chance to take on real-world scenarios such as the restoration of Battersea Power Station.
Each CIOB lesson runs between three and six hours where groups of students, usually in teams of three or four, collaborate across the lessons. The lessons cover four areas of construction, maintenance, restoration, new build and refurbishment.
Researchers from Ulster University have developed BeIMCraft (or Built Environment Information Modelling Craft) - a Minecraft mod which serves to highlight the emerging role of digital technology in construction.
Aimed at 11 to 16-year-olds, though likely to interest younger children and grown ups, the game reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the built environment's supply chain. Players are encouraged to consider planning issues, health and safety risks, structural aspects, sustainability and cost when creating their 3D world. Reflecting real-life building conditions, you won't get very far without appropriate foundations and built too high and you'll need to start thinking about stability. Teachers can set design briefs and budgets and participants can be selected to work in teams to achieve a particular outcome.
The game is deliberately constructed to mirror some of the key aspects of BIM - allowing players to get a feel for working in a 3D environment, adding assets to a real-world Common Data Environment and assigning costs to assets and thinking about timings, sustainability and constraints on site.
And lots, lots more...
Elsewhere, there's loads of useful resources now available online. The Minecraft Education website contains more details on a wealth of resources.
Some of our favourites include The Institute of Play's Building Architecture lesson which encourages students to emulate an architectural style from history and then build in that style and Architecture Build which provides an architectural history lesson focussed on Frank Lloyd Wright, Usonian architecture and Lauren Pope.
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