This spring, architect Monica Mader and interior designer Elyse Iverson volunteered as co-teachers for the Architecture Foundation of Oregon’s (afo) Architects in Schools (AIS) program. For six weeks, architectural design and engineering professionals visit elementary schools on a weekly basis, teaching a series of lessons that introduce students to various aspects of the industry and profession. Below, Monica summarizes their six-week residency at KairosPDX, a public charter school in NE Portland focused on serving low-income students and students of color.
What was your goal for the students in your AIS program?
By the end of the program, we wanted the students to be able to demonstrate an understanding of their own community and recognize valuable components of a neighborhood in relation to architecture.
How did you introduce architecture and design to the students?
We started with preliminary exercises to get students comfortable with basic architectural principles, to learn what tools architects and interior designers use to communicate, to understand what roles of interior designers and architects serve in the community, and lastly to get the students to critically look at their built surroundings. Students then studied their community – how it evolved/stayed the same over the past century, what are the good components in their current neighborhood, and most importantly, what they want to see in the area around their school in the future. Their creativity in design attests to their observations.
How did the students demonstrate what they learned?
Their understanding was constantly tested as they worked through their final classroom project, which was on display at OMSI on May 19. Their final project was ultimately an urban planning exercise. Students worked collaboratively with their peers to create their own future neighborhood community – a community that builds upon what already exists and improves upon it by accommodating needs. The students conceived a range of ideas to improve their neighborhood: from dance studios, gyms, animal hospitals, to senior centers. Proposals for lazy rivers and extensive tree forts were also contenders. These designs got incorporated as hypothetical small infill projects in the 2-block-by-5-block area around their school.
What was your takeaway as an AIS instructor?
I got into AIS because I love working with the kids. They are crazy! Their boundless energy and creativity has not yet been jaded or bound by the realities of physics.