Teaching Kids about Architecture and Design

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 17, No 1 (Spring 2006)

Jeanne F. Butler

For those of us who are passionate about the arts, it has been disheartening to see so many schools cut back on arts education. I am happy to report on a new initiative by the American Architectural Foundation that hopes to boost interest in teaching kids about architecture and design.

This fall, the American Architectural Foundation and the Chicago Architecture Foundation partnered to create the Architecture and Design K-12 Education Network to promote design education nationally. The new network is a resource for the hundreds of organizations, schools, and teachers that already have set up programs or are looking to begin one in their community. The goal is to foster the growth and development of K-12 design education nationally and to advance architecture curricula aimed at teaching youth about the built environment while also supporting student learning in a range of subjects, such as English, math, science, and social studies.

For many years, the American Architectural Foundation has awarded the Accent on Architecture Community Grants program to assist local nonprofit design and civic organizations in producing innovative public education programming. This new initiative with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, a national leader in design curriculum with its successful "Schoolyards to Skylines" curriculum, is a way to reach more organizations with greater impact nationally.

The Architecture and Design K-12 Education Network is conducting a survey of approximately 300 organizations that are currently involved in architecture and design curriculum. In 2006, it will launch a web site that will have a directory of resources and curriculum and reference materials for educators. The Network will also host a national symposium in Chicago in fall 2006.

A national steering committee has been formed for the Architecture & Design K-12 Education Network under the leadership of co-chairs Ronald E. Bogle (president and CEO, American Architectural Foundation) and Lynn J. Osmond (president and CEO, Chicago Architecture Foundation). Member organizations and participating individuals include: American Architectural Foundation (AAF), Jeanne F. Butler, senior advisor; Architecture Foundation of San Francisco, Alan R. Sandler, executive director; Arts Education Partnership, Dick Deasy, director, and Rebecca Borden, senior associate for research; Boston Foundation for Architecture, Jan Ham, program director, Learning by Design; Chicago Architecture Foundation, Jean Linsner, director of youth education, and Kristine Ang Go, Network Coordinator; Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Paul Warwick Thompson, director, and Caroline Payson, education director; National Building Museum, Chase Rynd, executive director, and Edmund Worthy, vice president education.

The steering committee, together with other leaders in related fields, hope to significantly boost the information and resources available about K-12 architecture and design education. They know from the many successful programs already in place in local communities that teachers and students benefit from learning about the built environment.

The curriculum from these programs is complementary to studies in English, science, math, social studies, and other subjects. For example, one of AAF's grantees, the Washington Architectural Foundation (WAF), has a program called "Exploring Architecture with Kids" that teaches vocabulary words, shapes, and history as part of its program.

The WAF program has a number of components from classroom drawing and learning sessions on architecture, to building their own row houses out of shoe boxes and taking a tour of their neighborhoods. On the walking tour students get a map, diagrams of landmarks, and a booklet about their neighborhood that illustrates the concepts learned in the workshops. The Dupont Circle walk includes stops at an elegant Queen Anne row house built in the late nineteenth century, a famous Arts and Craft home that houses the Women's National Democratic Club, a Beaux Arts house that now is home to the prestigious Washington Club, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and a number of Embassies depicting different architectural styles. The foundation hopes that these initiatives to teach kids about design and architecture will serve as a catalyst for inspiring the future designers and stewards of our built environment.

For more information on the Architecture and Design K-12 Education Network, please contact Kristine Ang Go, Network Coordinator, Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60604-2500, 312-922-3432, ext. 260, kgo@architecture.org, or visit www.architecture.org/ednetwork.asp

Jeanne F. Butler is senior advisor to the American Architectural Foundation on K-12 education and arts programs and partnerships. Contact: jeannebutler@earthlink.net.