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Forts of all sorts.

My two children had been asking for years if they could build a fort on poles in our yard. It just so happens that one of the lower-elementary basic skills in our state is a career objective: architect. My own children's aspirations gave me an excellent idea on how to fulfill this objective. Thus evolved a very successful two-part lesson. Third grade students learned architectural principles, and applied their ideas to create an original fort picture, using paper strips in a collage technique.

First I asked the students to name structures other than homes that an architect might design: apartment buildings, schools, office buildings, churches, etc. This discussion focused attention on the three-fold responsibilities of the architect: to design a structure that is safe, functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Learning the Ropes

I asked the students whether they would prefer to be a carpenter or an architect. In order to answer this question, the students needed to become aware of what's involved in becoming an architect. An architect must study art and drawing as well as math (geometry, physics), history, computers and courses on the environment. Five or six years of college are usually followed by an internship of several years. Finally, to be come licensed, architects must pass the rigorous, four-day Architecture Registration Examination, given annually.

Lest they become discouraged by this elaborate regimen, I thought a demonstration of the tools useful to an architect would ease their minds. A ruler helped prove that to be an architect you don't even have to be able to draw a straight line! A compass effortlessly created a perfect circle. Templates provided patterns for ovals, curves, geometric shapes and angles.

Drawing Along

In a series of short exercises, the students learned some basic architectural techniques. The first lesson learned was that the triangle shape is stronger than a square. In order to design a sturdy fort, the building technique of triangular bracing was introduced by means of a group "draw along" session on scrap paper. A simple side view of a table with two legs was sketched. Two braces, facing inward, were drawn at the tops of the table legs. Bracing makes the table stronger and provides structural support. It evens out pressure and strain much like an arch on a stone bridge. Below this picture the word bracing was written.

The next lesson involved a sketch of a deep chasm crossed over by a simple footbridge supported by piers with bracing. Handrails with an X pattern for support were added. Underneath it students wrote civil engineer.

A sketch of a steel tower cross braced with X's was drawn next and labeled cross bracing. Students contributed ideas for the towers' function carrying electrical lines, transmitting radio signals, supporting a water tower. Several children noted the resemblance to the 1889 cast-iron Eiffel Tower.

A good beginning for any art project is a foolproofer, a very easy first step. The children were asked to pretend that they had been given permission to build their fort on a steep hillside. Flipping their scrap paper over, the students eagerly began to draw their hills.

One must build from the ground up, so the next step was to use rulers to draw two vertical lines as support posts. Although pole tops must be level with one another, I assured the students that one pole is actually longer than the other. A platform for the fort was drawn and bracing was added between the building platform and the posts. The posts were then thickened for strength.

Fort sketches drawn on the first day would be only a rough draft. Architects stretch their "creativity muscles" by making many sketches, so students were encouraged to try out new ideas and designs later at home. Improvements and changes cannot easily be made after the architects' final blueprint has been made for the building teams of carpenters, electricians and plumbers.

Before students began to draw their forts, a simple rectangular fort on poles was sketched on the chalk-board. This model fort was flat roofed with only one square window. The flat roof was then erased and other roof styles were demonstrated: shed style, clerestory and roof peaks of various heights. The purpose of overhanging eaves was also discussed since the architect's buildings must be both sturdy and functional.

Thinking Aesthetically

Students were then given a chance to think aesthetically. They imagined window shapes beyond the obvious square. Squares turned sideways became diamonds. After rectangle shapes were suggested, connecting window panes were discussed as well as placing rectangles either horizontally or vertically, it was pointed out that triangular shapes could complement angles on a peaked roof, and when divided could create a stained-glass effect.

Free at last to apply their new-found architectural knowledge, students were reminded that they would be evaluated, not only for how unusual, interesting and beautiful the forts would be, but also for how straight and neat their lines were.

Most children included ladders on their forts. Some interesting detail work included flagpoles, watchtowers, and multi-level decks. A few even added antennae for better television reception!

Students had incubated many ideas by the next time the art class met. This session began with a quick review of concepts learned and a critique of the fort sketches completed during the previous class. Since a good architect is always open to new concepts, many clever ideas from the group's first fort sketches were pointed out. Students were reassured that it is permissible to pick up on others' ideas and use them in new ways.

With glue, scissors and crayons on hand, each child was given a large piece of white paper and ten, thin, pre-cut 12" strips of brown construction paper. A hill was drawn and colored. Two paper strips were laid down as support posts for the pole fort. The paper strips could be cut to any size needed. Strips could also be cut narrower for details such as rungs on a ladder. In order to assure that the design remained flexible enough to allow for any needed creative problem solving, students were cautioned to set glue aside until the fort arrangement was complete.

To paste the fort down, students carefully glued one paper strip at a time, beginning again with the support posts. Students were to apply glue sparingly onto the strip, not on the white paper itself. After gluing was completed, walls of the forts were colored. Room interiors were not to be shown. Early finishers were encouraged to add more detail work.

My students learned what it was like to be an architect. Many of them were so fascinated by the project, I wouldn't be surprised if we turned out some latter day Wrights, van der Rohes and Breuers.

Virginia Humphreys Booth is K-12 art teacher at Jasper Public Schools, Jasper, Arkansas.
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Title Annotation:teaching basic architecture to elementary students
Author:Booth, Virginia Humphreys
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1992
Previous Article:A good space for making art.
Next Article:Shelters.

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