How to bring architecture fun into the classroom

Philip Wells

Phil is a qualified architect with approximately 20 years working experience. He has worked on several prestigious projects including the London Millennium Bridge, Newcastle’s Sage Music Centre, and Halley VI Antarctic Research Station.  Phil loves a challenge. His interests include innovation theory and the development of materials and building systems.

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As part of their Art curriculum, Furzedown Primary School in south west London has been running workshops on architectural design. This is to help the children’s knowledge and understanding of materials, structure, colour and aesthetics, and how they can be applied physically into built assemblies. Architectural design is not a subject normally taught in schools before college, but it is a subject that is very relevant to everyone. We all live in the built environment which is heavily managed with lots of design interventions. Individually and collectively these affect us directly, so why not bring architectural design into the classroom?

This is what they have been doing:

Experiments with structure

The children have been learning about structures in nature and man-made objects, and understanding how some applications found in nature have been applied to the engineered products we use today. Forces and their applications were explained and some unconventional structural solutions were also examined.

The children were given sets of construction toys with challenges to create the tallest, largest or longest spanning structure, to put some of the theory to the test. It is when they were hands-on with the kits that value of structural triangles over conventional squares and rectangles really became apparent.

Experiments in drawing

Graphically representing your design proposals in a format that can be universally read is a bit of a skill. Class lessons looked at plans, sections and elevations, and how they could be used to construct a 3D axonometric.

Challenges for the children included tasks ranging from ‘draw your ideal room’ to ‘design a fantastic building of the future’. Their imaginations did not let their work down and the confidently produced results were full of drawn articulation and annotation to describe the proposals.

Architectural design and model making

An introduction to architectural design looked at materials, colour, light transparency, form and how different types of spaces might affect how we feel.

A range of freely-available materials was gathered for making models with. This included cardboard tubes and sheets, string, pipe cleaners and scooby-string, coloured translucent plastic film and lollipop sticks. With their recent understanding of how structures perform and ideas of spaces, the children set to work inventing prototypes for an installation of their choice for the school playground. Ideas ranged from places to hang out with friends in to sculptural designs, to activity spaces.

Adventures in building

The series of lessons gave enough time to trial the assembly of one of the prototype designs. This was a bit of a risk because things that work in model form often behave differently when scaled up. The selection of materials had been planned so that everything used for the prototypes had a corresponding larger version for a full-size assembly. Cardboard tubes and sheets transferred to carpet roll tubes and estate agent boards, string became rope and coloured ribbon became fabric strips etc.

The prototype selected became the ‘Random Funky Festival Pavilion’ and a place where much of Year 5 could sit and eat their lunch at and debate important matters at break time.

Skills learnt

As well as mentally gaining an understanding on how structure and design works through listening and applying, the children also practiced activities which helped with their motor skills. The making of both small and large structures challenged their cutting, making and assembly skills. As part of the design work the children investigated folded card structures and modular origami, which took some time and attention to master.

To this end, I am confident that the series of lessons into architectural design helped the children to progress in line with the school’s aspirations for learning development. Hopefully it opened their imaginations to a new area of design exploration and built confidence. The work was also designed to complement the National Curriculum in England for design and technology programmes of study, which calls for a process of designing and making using a set of skills based around Maths, Science, Engineering, Computing and Art.

Do you bring architecture into your lessons? Let us know below!

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