I’ve had the pleasure of participating in a volunteer program called Architects in Schools for 5 years now. As an architect/design professional, you apply and get assigned to an elementary school by the Architecture Foundation of Oregon staff. In the past I have worked with 4th and 5th graders, but this year I was chosen to work with a third grade class at Creston Elementary School, alongside my friend and old schoolmate Rachel Zanetti, who currently works for FFA.
From past experience, I’ve realized that there is large learning gap between 4th and 5th graders. This year I came to discover that gap is even greater between those grades and 3rd graders. Even so, the class this year was spectacular and still exceeded my expectations as far as what they were capable of, especially the level of their creativity.
The way their minds work is astonishingly unique from individual to individual. Yet, no matter what we threw at them, they were able to really take it and make it their own. This year we focused on having the kids create their ideal city. This involved not only the programmatic designations of their buildings, but also the structural integrity of their building frame. They also had to consider how those buildings related to each other on a block, and how those blocks worked together to form an urban environment. But that’s jumping ahead a bit.
The first few weeks of lessons we like to think serve as the building blocks for what the kids will need to know in order to execute the final project. We started with a brief historical background of iconic historical architecture, while also touching upon how those buildings perform structurally. To do this, we had the kids use their bodies to mimic the structures. For example, a flying buttress (like those seen in the Notre Dame) were demonstrated by having the kids lean against a nearby wall, while trying to hold it up with their hands and arms outstretched. For the Roman Coliseum, we had the kids join hands in a circle and slowly lean outward. Architects in Schools is all about making the field of architecture fun for kids.
To teach the kids about the roles and responsibilities of an owner, an architect, and a builder, we had them take turns playing each role in order to complete a paper mask. They learned quickly that being the client means you get to make decisions, but if you’re not thorough enough in explaining what you want, the architect could design something else. As the architect, they learned that they need to draw and label all aspects of their design for the builder, or else gaps in their information could get filled in incorrectly. The builder learned that working to satisfy both the client and architect can be a losing battle sometimes. In the end, I think the kids finished that lesson with a better understanding of how all of those roles can be really challenging and complex at times.
As you can see, a series of 1.5 hour lessons can be really impactful, especially with adolescent brains, sponges more like it! I’d encourage any other architects or designers in the industry to volunteer their time and sign up for Architects in Schools. They consistently have more schools and classes that would like to participate, but there just aren’t enough professional volunteers to go around. And, working with kids isn’t just fun for them, you’ll have a blast doing it! Just look at the pictures if you don’t believe me!