Teaching Children about Urban Design and Architecture

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As Whitney Houston famously sang, “Children are our future/ Teach them well and let them lead the way.”  Kids learn about science, math, health and even home ec in school.  However, little is taught about building patterns and building construction.  Most of this information is learned from a child’s life at home through their daily activities and their parents.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasawebbtelescope

Several organizations exist to combat this and give teachers lesson plans to teach children about community development and architecture, such as the Center for Understanding the Built Environment and ArchKIDecture. Micheal Rodriquez wrote a great article that says that teaching children planning issues will help them become engaged and knowledgeable citizens in the future.  He gives sound advice to teachers about how to incorporate such concepts into normal lessons.

To the nay-sayers who do not think schools have time to teach planning concepts, or worry more about ‘core’ curricula in math, science, and reading, I say that teaching planning concepts is fun and complimentary to teaching other subjects. They are not mutually exclusive. Teaching the concept of scale obviously includes math. Learning about one’s city and neighborhood, and keeping a journal about the community, requires reading and writing exercises.

In addition, architecture can help teach proportion and geometry, especially in classical buildings.

Many non-profits have programs that reach out to schools and work with teachers to educate about the public process and even urban renewal.  The American Planning Association has a great blog which highlights their successful education events, books, games and other activities to help teach children about planning activities.  The AIA Cincinnati chapter has a program where local architects can volunteer with schools and teach about the profession.  These groups and others like them help professionals spread their knowledge to children and offer a great resource for teachers.

Big lego blocks

Big lego blocks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While these activities all happen in the classroom, parents can also help educate their children through books and toys at home.  For a long time one of my best friends and I have thought there are too few children’s books about architecture and planning, but things are slowly changing. David Macaulay’s books, especially City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction
and Rome Antics, along with Where Things Are, From Near To Far and The Works: Anatomy of a City
are great starting points, and hopefully more are in the pipeline. Toys are another matter, and many “vintage” toys, such as Lincoln Logs, Legos and Brio Trains teach about construction and transportation, but it was up to the user to actually create towns or cities from these components.  Recently, several amazing new toy cities have come to my attention.  One that I found through Kickstarter is a lightweight, eco-friendly doll house city based on Logan Square, Chicago, and the other is a cardboard town based on suburban Polish life.  I think these illustrate that people are no longer thinking of themselves in isolation, and that a single doll house is no longer enough.

Together parents, teachers and professionals can teach future generations about the different ways to live and build a community.  Whether through adult lead activities, assignments or the imagination, children can learn how buildings are constructed and placed together in a neighborhood to better their own civic involvement since architecture is a useless major. And perhaps in the future there will be less of a gap that causes so much fuss about minimal car purchases, urban home preferences, or youngsters ruining cities.

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