If we think back to when we were ten years old, what did we believe architecture was? What about in junior high or high school? What was the point at which we believed we had a basic understanding of architecture and what it meant to the world we live in? Or, when did we decide architecture was more than what we found out from George Costanza? Did we ever grow out of that state? For some, the answers to these questions are simple and straightforward. For others, there may not be exact answers to them.
Recently, our office had the opportunity to help with some of these answers via the Cleworth Architectural Legacy (CAL) program. CAL is a program organized through the Denver Architectural Foundation in Denver Public Schools where we attempt to teach a basic understanding of architecture and the process of creating our built environment to a classroom of young children. We had the opportunity to work with a group of fourth grade students at University Prep in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver to create “space architecture”.
Because the idea of “space architecture” is such an abstract one that continues to fuel speculative and fantastical designs from even the most world renowned architects, it seemed like a great opportunity to allow the students to delve into the world of planning, three-dimensional space organization, and abstract concepts. While most students had a great time with the multi-week project, some did not see the point of creating something so impractical. After all, seeing the value of designing buildings and neighborhoods down to the stairway that you ascend every morning isn’t always readily apparent by using sticks, marshmallows, and plastic wrap to create colonies on Mars.
That all being said, providing an outlet for fourth grade students to think about a community in which they imagine themselves living helps to provide a lifelong lesson, even if it is only over the course of few months. If we were all given the opportunity to imagine and physically create, even abstractly, the ideal environments in which we would like to live, would we still be living in the same environment today? Or would the value of design have been rooted deeply within us to demand higher standards?
This is all a very far-reaching claim to make from a few weeks working with fifty students in a single city. But, I can’t help but wonder what our buildings would look like if the public at large was more informed about architecture and held it to a higher standard from a very early age. I would venture to say that we would demand that our buildings perform at a higher rate, be more user driven, and push the envelope as far as possible in regards to aesthetics and a cohesive urban environment.
Ultimately, the point of architects reaching out to children is to help further the understanding of the value of architecture and design within the every day lives of every person. It may turn out that only a couple of these students pursue architecture as a career path and it may turn out that none do. What is an invaluable message, though, is that the spaces and places that they inhabit were (usually) carefully planned and that there is a tremendous value to fully thinking about the spaces in which we occupy and move through everyday.
Otherwise, most people may just end up sitting around a diner with a few friends speculating on what architecture is and the fanciful and out of reach possibilities of such an industry.
Shameless plug: if you would like to get involved with programs like CAL, please reach out to AIA Colorado or the Denver Architectural Foundation for more information.