UC Berkeley (Nick)



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    a sixty minute city

    Nick Sowers
    Dec 3, '08 3:01 AM EST

    What would you teach about architecture if you had one hour with a cafeteria full of middle school kids?

    This is the question I've been asking myself for over a month, ever since my sister, who is an art teacher at a Catholic school, suggested that I come teach her class while in Denver over Thanksgiving. I had been looking forward to the opportunity, yet was unsure of what to teach, and more importantly, what exactly to have them do.

    I think the only way to learn architecture is through your hands. But I absolutely didn't want to get them building boxes with depressing windows punched out of them. So how to get kids to use their imagination, to make something they've never seen before?

    I showed them Dubai. And China. And Koolhaas. And Gaudi. They loved it. I also have a tablet computer so I was drawing on the screen as I talked, and they went absolutely crazy. They were asking non stop questions: "What's your favorite building? Oh, and my grandpa's an architect!" or "Why does that building have diamonds?" Thanks Rem for getting the kids excited.

    And then, I turned it over to them. I asked, What do you want in your city of the future? My wife wrote down their answers on a dry erase board: a pool of jello, floating buildings, no gravity, buildings with wheels, buildings with an entire city inside, buildings with slides, buildings on escalators--you get the idea.

    They formed teams of 4 or 5, and got to work. We went from table to table, feeding off their energy, showing them techniques for cutting the cardboard, handing out little orange people that I cut out here in Berkeley. I was just floored by how much they could produce in one hour. Kids are incredible. Later I wondered, what happens to all that raw imagination? I hope I still have mine.

    When time ran out, they stood up to present their buildings. There were some great ideas, mostly to do with sliding in and out of windows, landing in hot tubs or an olympic torch. One group had rock climbing walls for facades, and a catapult to launch handicapped people to the top (yes, I laser cut handicapped people as well as horses and an occasional camel). Another group made an asylum with egg carton pods for elevators. Lots of hotels, houses, even a floating castle.

    At the end of the presentations, I took questions about anything--of course they wanted to know which building was my favorite. Well I do have a favorite, you can probably tell by the photos. Of course I couldn't tell the kids. They wanted to know how many buildings I had designed. I told them about 20, which is probably close to accurate between school and work, though I added that none of them were built. This confused the hell out of them. So I got the question "How do you make money?" oops... well, architects don't. And they have to be really, really patient. That was probably more than they needed to know.

    Kids are awesome, what else can I say? I hope even Koolhaas would be proud.


    • Nick,
      That is awesome. Kids are full of creativity and excitement. It is what i miss most about my year of teaching. As for their architectural production. I wonder if anything they came up with is that much more fanciful than some of the stuff that was/might still be going up in the oil states or Beijing.

      It seems there method of production is also very similar to Koolhaas's and other's method of many iterations of the model????

      Anyways sound sliek you had a blast and were maybe even a little bit inspired..

      Dec 3, 08 8:30 am  · 

      Totally very cool. If someone like you would have showed at my school when I was a kid, I probably would have chosen architecture much sooner.

      Dec 3, 08 9:56 am  · 
      liberty bell

      Really wonderful products form these kids, Nick, good job! When Steven and I teach our high school program in Kentucky I always feel the same way - those kids are totally fearless about "designing" something; they just go with their gut and are so fresh and unconstrained. Your middle school kids' work is even better!

      Stimulating those creative brain processes, that's the thing that seems most lacking in a lot of primary education and it's great to see these students get a chance to experiment. I am certain they look at their city differently now!

      Dec 3, 08 12:34 pm  · 

      How fun. I am definitely on board with the "buildings with slides" idea. :o)

      Dec 3, 08 3:39 pm  · 

      Awesome! The second one from the bottom on the right looks like a Denari project.

      Dec 3, 08 5:39 pm  · 
      ∑= π ∓ √ ∞

      nothing more beautiful than the honest of children. that's what sucks about architecture programs, we get bombarded and corrupted with every other ideology and forget the honesty of our profession. sad.

      Dec 3, 08 6:14 pm  · 

      Hey everyone, thanks for the comments!

      Well I think if there's one thing we can learn from kids and aspire to as professionals, it's that if we are building museums and libraries and cities that get kids excited, perhaps there is still hope that architecture does something.

      Dec 4, 08 8:24 am  · 

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