Last year, our Baltimore office partnered with Brehms Lane Elementary, a local charter school operated by the nonprofit organization Afya Baltimore Inc. We primed students with a STEAM Career Day to jump-start our endeavor to inspire design in their everyday activities. Over the next few months, the office planned and reworked an architectural-design curriculum that overlaid with their STEAM resource class. We posed the same challenges to ourselves as last year: Can we inspire 48 students to pursue a technical or design profession?!

Not exactly! But we could make do with 24 fifth-graders! We scaled down plans to ensure we kept a personable volunteer-to-student ratio, as well as a limited interruption from the students’ regular school programming.

Our curriculum was five sessions. The 2017-18 year started with a collaborative visioning session. While we had a framework and key lessons in place, we wanted the students to be empowered and lead their own path of design. This reactive position led to many insights and ideas that we would never have considered! We challenged them to re-think how they interact with their spaces, and what defines their surroundings.

“What are your least favorite spaces?” Among many other queries in the survey, we pitched this question to the class. Unsurprisingly, students answered with physicians’ offices and their library; however, they answered not for the reasons expected! They noted that their library lacked the organization and qualities that other public libraries provided. This could be attributed to the physical space, book selection, human personnel… and many other factors, but hey! We could work with this!

Our sessions changed and evolved. Based on that initial session, we geared our curriculum toward library typologies. While students learned the composition of libraries and reading spaces, we introduced more typical architectural exercises. We started with basic sketching and drawing, and watched as many of them jumped straight to digital modeling! Thanks to the STEAM teachers’ recommendation and pre-lesson preparations, we used a basic Javascript application to help visualize their ideas. Surprisingly, every student demonstrated a rather advanced understanding of spatial awareness – we can thank video games like Minecraft and Roblox for that!

Final project = Library Dioramas! We ended the year with a return to the physical world. Dioramas served as the best method to showcase their new knowledge of architectural principles and design skills. We spent weeks collecting shoeboxes, cutting collage pieces, and 3d printing furniture to prepare for this culmination! Students assembled their dioramas in our last session. These would be later presented to the community showcase in the month following!