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The ABCs of architecture.

As an elementary art specialist with more than a passing interest in architecture, I was challenged to develop a series of curriculum units for grades one through three that would make connections between art and social studies while introducing lower and middle elementary students to concepts of shelter and architecture.

Through identification of different types of shelters, classes would be introduced to celebrated architecture and well-known architects. A discussion with a visiting architect would help students understand the importance of architecture, and an introduction to blueprints would introduce them to a different kind of linear drawing. Students working in cooperative learning groups could study different photographs of environments for architecture, and individually or by groups, create their own forms of architecture within different environments. This would also allow me to expand students' understanding of present-day environmental issues.

A cooperative parent in the construction business provided me with 8 1/2" x 11" copies of simple interior/exterior blueprints for a two-story ranch home. The copies and original blueprints, along with social studies material, exposed first grade students to new art forms, multicultural information, critical thinking activities, and allowed them to make cognitive connections between their art activities, social studies unit and possible careers.

A bird's-eye view is not common knowledge for students of this age, so it was gratifying to experience their interest and comprehension of architectural renderings and floor plans. Since the students outlined their pencil drawings with black markers, the blueprints were renamed blackprints. This project was completed in one week at the first grade level, in five, twenty-five minute periods. We began the first grade unit by developing and discussing a set of objectives.




Students will: (1) Identify different types and purposes of shelters. (2) Compare different views of blueprints, analyze rooms within the blueprint. (3) Discuss such terms as architect, architecture, blueprint. (4) Demonstrate an understanding of the following abbreviations on a blueprint: kitchen bedroom, bathroom, inside/outside doors, walls, windows and fireplace. (5) Make aesthetic judgements about the blueprints and plans they would use in an imaginary home--shape of house, doors, windows, walls, kitchen, dining room, garage, etc. (6) Create a bird's-eye view blueprint of an imaginary home demonstrating an understanding of room placement, entrances, walls and windows.

Introducing Architecture

To begin, we gathered resources and materials: slides of work by Frank Lloyd Wright, Antonio Gaudi and Buckminster Fuller; local forms of architecture; special features; architectural blueprints; shelter examples (castles, log cabins, schools, houses, apartment buildings, Native American tepees, Eskimo lodges, African huts; copies of simple interior/exterior blueprints; 12" x 18" white drawing paper; pencils and black magic markers.

(1) Have students discuss and sort photos of shelters and environments. What materials were used? Why and where were they constructed? Which would students prefer to live in? (2) Introduce students to the terms architect architecture and blueprint. (3) Provide SIMPLE copies of exterior/interior blueprints for each child.


(1) Show students blueprints created by an architect. Relate information concerning architect's job, tools and different views drawn for blueprints. Is architecture an art form? (2) Using an overhead transparency of the exterior blueprint, have students locate the following information: shapes, lines, size comparison of doors, windows, front porch, steps, roof lines, chimneys and shingles. Discuss architect's drawing of textures plus different views of the house.


Using a transparency of the interior blueprint, discuss observable differences between the two blueprints. Project overhead transparency on a screen, and have students locate information on their copies. (1) Students identify the steps leading to front porch, doorway and entry. Note use of lines and shapes. (2) Analyze shapes of the house and the different rooms. Discuss why and how rooms are arranged and traffic patterns. Where would a garage go? (3) Note abbreviations, symbols for walls, interior/exterior doors, window seats, counters, bathtubs, stools and sinks. Find steps leading upstairs/downstairs.

Drawing Demonstration

A simple blueprint of an imaginary house could be drawn on the chalkboard or on a 12" x 18" piece of white drawing paper. The blueprint should show:

1. general shape of the house;

2. location of rooms and abbreviations;

3. walls--use of lines to create different lengths;

4. doors--front, back and interior;

5. windows;

6. added features such as fireplace, counters, stools, sinks, furniture, etc.

Student Drawing

Using a pencil, children draw the outside shape of a house from a bird's-eye view. (1) Imagine where the rooms would be placed. Lightly draw the walls and hallways. (2) Add inside/outside doors. (3)Locate window openings. (4) Identify rooms with abbreviations. (5) Furnish rooms with appliances and furniture.



Review with second grade students the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, Antonio Gaudi and Buckminster Fuller. Compare and contrast their architecture. Analyze shapes and forms for geometric/organic characteristics. Analyze different forms of architecture for past, present and futuristic architectural features.

Have students create a drawing of the exterior of an imaginary form of architecture underground, in space, or underwater including, but not limited to, the following architectural features: domes, walkways, collapsible furniture, floating architecture, cascading facades and pedways.

Next, give children a handout on various styles of houses and tell them they have a given sum to purchase one of the homes in the handout. Students should analyze the house they choose using a visual-survey form on architecture, listing site form, height, windows, doors, columns, porches, roof lines, chimneys, siding and foundations.

A tour of homes can take place at the end of this unit. Students find friends and walk them through the homes, pointing out favorite features. Doors, windows and names of rooms should be evident.

When completed, realty ads are read and discussed. Students write a sales advertisement, place an imaginary value on their homes and attempt to sell them to other students in the class.



In Social Studies, students learn that a community is made up of residential, industrial and business districts plus natural, cultural resources and community services.

During art classes, a slide presentation consisting of architectural features of local buildings plus natural, cultural resources and community services allowed students to make connections with their home town, and information previously learned in social studies.

Through cooperative efforts, three-dimensional oaktag architectural forms were created. These were based upon organic and geometric shapes and the divisions within a community: residential, industrial, business and community-service buildings.

When the day came to create the community, desks were arranged in a circle around the edge of the room like a city council. A large piece of plastic with pre-drawn streets, city blocks, train tracks and water symbols was on the floor in the middle of the room. Information regarding the map and the drawing (streets, blocks, water symbols, train tracks) was not discussed before students placed their forms on the plastic. I felt the exploration of the map was an important part of the learning process and would bring about a natural dialogue.

Students were given small pieces of colored construction paper to represent their different community divisions plus community services: red: residential, yellow: industrial, blue: business and green: community services. These colored squares were to be placed in front of their architectural forms on the plastic and helped students to visualize and identify the architectural forms in relationship to their specific functions. The council discussed regulations for the placement of their architectural forms.

After everything was in place, the council and I, serving as mayor, discussed the purpose of the colored squares and suggestions for improvement. This brought about relevant class discussion and creative problem solving that simulated present-day zoning issues within communities. When satisfied with the placement of the architectural forms, students removed the colored squares. Toy cars, animals, signs and trees were brought to school to embellish the creative community.

The imaginary city council proposed and then voted upon issues regarding the creative community. Issues included zoning regulations, permanent materials used for sidewalks and streets (asphalt, cement, bricks), beautification factors, signs, educational systems and busing. The council members even debated about the name for the community with Dudeville, Hammertown and Lakerville among those suggested.


The following problems present within our community were used at the third grade level for cooperative learning.

1. The community has a railroad track splitting the town in half. The fire station and rescue squad are located on one side and the hospital is on the other side of the tracks. How could the problem be remedied when the emergency route to the hospital is blocked by a train?

2. A new middle school is being constructed near a major highway and railroad track. As members of the city council, how would one insure students' safety as children cross the highway or tracks on their way to school?

3. If you were creating an imaginary community, where would you place major streets, stop signs, services such as fire stations, hospitals, schools, post offices within the community? Would you add items to beautify the community? What would they be and where would they be located? Could you draw this as a bird's-eye view of a map?

It's an exciting way to challenge children and set up simulation activities that make them aware of real-life situations. I avoided providing solutions to their problems ... i.e. which would be established first in a community --residential areas, business, industrial or community services? They were still discussing the pros and cons during lunch. This is when education becomes exciting.

Linda Jorgensen teaches elementary art in the Blair, Nebraska Public Schools.
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Title Annotation:introducing architecture to students in grades 1 through 3
Author:Jorgensen, Linda
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1992
Previous Article:Fernand Leger's 'The City.' (painting)
Next Article:Trompe l'oeil in value study.

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