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Statewide STEAM for Libraries

A resource page for libraries around Pennsylvania. Contains materials from both the State Library of Pennsylvania and other organizations.

Program Series

Twelve Part Program Series on Architecture


Definition (1-2 hours)

            The defining of the problem one is trying to solve is the root of architecture, as it is of any form of engineering. When faced with a library design, Rex architects needed to define the use of the building, and the issues that were being addressed by the structure. An example of the process is given in the Rex Architects planning of the Seattle Central Library.

What problems in your neighborhood could you solve by building a new structure? What features would it need to have to include in its definition?

Dash off a quick sketch or build after you define the issues you are solving.

Storytelling (1-2 hours)

            Having defined your problem, the community and surrounding area must be incorporated, right from the start. The story will help to define the functions, and the needed features of the structure.

What is the story of your town? What is the story of your community? Does it differ from area to area? What parts do you need to tell?

Imagine your story as a model. What does it look like? Can you build it? Bray Architects has a great look at this in a school. The Metropolis curriculum also has tons of ideas on activities.

Proportion (1-2 hours)

            Have you ever noticed that parts of a building are always a certain width, like the pillars or doors? That is due to architectural proportion rules, which state the ration of one part to another. If you have ever seen a building that just felt wrong, these rules were likely violated somehow.

Build a house, then change the ratios between the parts. The “proper” proportions are found at ThisisCarpentry, but how much can you change them before they look weird. Is it a good weird, or a bad weird? See if you can do to make a house that still looks nice, but off kilter. The Pintrest collection of Non-Euclidean Architectures has a number of examples.

Scale (30 minutes-1 hour)

            Scale is the skill to translate from real life to paper. Most people do not keep 3000 cubic foot sheets of paper, so the image must be shrunk, in proportion to the paper available.

How big will your LEGO building be in the real world? Is there a scale built into LEGOs other than inch to yard? How do architects translate from one to another?

The blog Teaching expertise has a great section of scale drawing activities aimed at Middle School kids.

Sketching (30 minutes-1 hour)

            Once the idea is in your brain, it has to be brought to life in some way. Sketching, whether by computer or on paper, allows the thought to take shape, as you adjust to circumstances you had not thought to include. This is the step before the formal model building, and allows you to resolve flow and use issues, among other problems.

Freehand Architecture has "The Perfect Architectural Drawing Lesson," but this can be as simple as a drawing where all the important parts the child wants are on it, and it is vaguely proportional.

Function (30 minutes-1 hour)

            Buildings have both a main function, like housing art, and smaller functions, such as providing bathrooms and a museum store for the patrons. How many functions will your building need? Do some interfere with others? What happens if you change where they are?

Design the flow in your building. A decent video series that covers this among other architectural drawings can be seen in Kyle Sinko's Architecture Diagrams Crash Course - 6 Types of Diagrams You Should Be Using, however this is basically a practical floor plan. Free online software can easily be found, but may require an email registration. One example is Planner 5d.

Form (1-2 hours)

            The shape of a building affects how it is used, and can enhance the function. Can you design a building for a specific purpose (like raising chickens) that looks like what it does? Does the shape make it easier to do the job (raise chickens)?

Amanda E. Gross' Art Curricula blog has a design challenge for young architects. The Lego Architecture guide also has some excellent activities, which can be found in the Activities section.

Space (1-2 hours)

            Space is the entire volume of a structure. Positive space is parts like walls and floors and ceilings. Negative space is what is between them. The interplay between positive and negative space creates the building.

            A good technical look at the topic can be seen in the Your Own Architecture article Form and Space in Architecture. The American Institute of Architects' Virginia chapter has some activities, as does Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School.

Symmetry (1-2 hours)

            Most things in nature have symmetry, meaning that 2 or more sides are similar to the other. This can be bilateral (often reflectional; 2 sides), rotational (also known as radial; 3 or more sides), and translational (copying of the full form). Architecture is often bilateral, but can make use of the other forms. Some of the most famous examples by architects in the 20th and 21st centuries played with adding asymmetry to otherwise symmetrical buildings.

            How can symmetry help with the form of the building? What can we use translational symmetry for in designing buildings? Symmetry can be drawn from a pre-existing building, as seen in this video from the Center for Architecture K-12, or taught from nature, which this Early Impact Leaning article covers. The Lego Librarian covers mirrored structures. The LEGO Architecture set manual also has several good activities on symmetry.

Organization (1-2 hours)

            Organization in architecture deals with the overall form of the structure and how the parts inter-relate. Does the mailroom flow into receiving, and then into cataloging, to processing and public use? Or, to put it in a less library related way, does the bathroom lie close to the refreshments stand, and to the classroom?

            Organization in buildings comes out in the final scale model (LEGO or otherwise), in the design of a school or library for educational efficiency, but should be present from the original drawing or design forward. A showcase, judged by the other builders, can incorporate the flow as a major component, and makes a great final session.

Patterns (30 minutes-1 hour)

            There are many patterns in architecture, from the architectural movements to the repeating of shapes and structures. Like in Symmetry, architects often play with our natural desire to organize by breaking an expected pattern to create a flow and asymmetry.

            Think of the patterns in nature- can you see those patterns repeat in the buildings built there? How does the imitation of those natural patterns help with the flow and function of the structure?

            Frank Lloyd Wright was famous for the incorporation and contrast of the natural patterns around his buildings. His foundation has a lesson on this, which can be found here. Another architect who plays with biomimicry is Vincent Callebaut, who designed both the Tao Zhu Yin Yuan in Taiwan (after DNA replication), and Manta Rays in Bali, after rays and seashells. Biomimicry Institute has a challenge with activities that is rather interesting.

Sustainability (1-2 hours)

            Sustainable design is a must, especially with climate change and pollution. It can range from green roofs and forested buildings to structures that use the environment for heating and cooling to incorporating the environment itself into the structure. Sustainable buildings not only reduce waste and their carbon footprint, but they are also healthier and more comfortable for the people who live and work in them.

            The Royal Institute of British Architects has a number of great activities, and a yearly challenge. In the United States, the Green Education Foundation has many activities, for a variety of ages, on their website.