This post has been adapted from the original article in the American Institute of Architects Young Architect Forum e-publication 'Connection' // February 2015.
'We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.'
- Winston Churchill
Architecture + Education
There are few things in life as rewarding as teaching a child to dream. In Fall 2013, the Buffalo Architecture Foundation in conjunction with the Buffalo Public School District, launched the third iteration of their biannual program, Architecture + Education. Arch+Ed brings volunteer architects into the classrooms of inner-city Buffalo, NY schools for the betterment of hundreds of young children.
The effort provides an irreplaceable way of engaging students about the built environment and man-made spaces they inhabit each day. Over ten weeks, program volunteer provide architectural instruction to a given class as a way to improve their academic success. Like music or art, architecture is treated as a vehicle for creative exploration and intellectual development.
The architecture professional teams with a Public School teacher and develops a specialized set of modules that approach architecture through the lens of a New York State mandated curriculum. All subjects are eligible including mathematics, social studies, and the sciences to name a few. Architecture and the topic selected become blended into a singular, unique program to help the students comprehend more about both.
Life on the Moon
I was personally recruited to assist the Fourth Graders of Mrs Danielle Popovich’s Class at Buffalo Public School #53. In their fourth grade year, students are required to pass a NYS science exam. As such, Danielle and I decided to focus the Arch+Ed efforts on a topic that would provide the greatest benefit to their studies, outer space. So began our travel to the surface of the Moon.
In the first several classes, we dedicated time to the fundamentals of architecture, including interactive lessons on space, scale, proportion, color, shape, light and surface. Each class was focused on one of these subjects specifically through a brief lecture and in-class project, culminating in a mini ‘show and tell’ of what the students had made for the rest of the class. The children were captivated by the ways an architect could create new worlds simply by dreaming them into existence through design.
- WEEK 1 // Architecture Intro
- WEEK 2 // Representation
- WEEK 3 // Living on the Moon
- WEEK 4 // Spatial Senses
- WEEK 5 // Structures
- WEEK 6 // Final Project | Planning
- WEEK 7 // Final Project | Site Surface
- WEEK 8 // Final Project | Walls & Roof
- WEEK 9 // Final Project | Detailing
- WEEK 10 // Final Project | Additional Detailing
Their eyes lit up and I could hear them gasp with excitement when we first revealed their final project was to design a house on the surface of the moon.
Midway through the program, we launched the students on a journey into their final project aptly titled, Life on the Moon. Their eyes lit up and I could hear them gasp with excitement when we first revealed their final project was to design a house on the surface of the moon. We soon incorporated lessons that investigated the scientific composition of the moon, the ways in which one might inhabit the surface, and how one might design a house there.
Each student was given a wood base, ‘moon’ clay, and a kit of parts including laser cut walls, windows, doors, and other architectural assets. The students glued, painted, colored, cut, and assembled their houses according to what they learned in weeks prior. Every model was distinctive; each home a special representation of its architect.
arch + ed 2014 exhibition
The program culminated in a gallery exhibition where the approximately twenty teams showcased a final project from their respective classes. The gallery opening itself was a great success in large part to the outstanding efforts of the students. Their ready engagement in the subject matter and willingness to participate in unfamiliar topics led to a neighborhood of colorful, well-designed, clever moon houses that impressed both their fellow classmates and proud, albeit momentary architectural teacher.
I'd like to stress that volunteering for causes like Architecture + Education are not only beneficial to those you help, but the person who volunteers as well. You may begin to understand the world from a different point of view, see it through the eyes of children.
I found teaching 4th graders about architecture to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Have you had a similar experience with teaching? Let me know some of your thoughts in the comments below.