- About AAO
The Chicago Architecture Foundation
Project Location: Chicago, Il
Number of Participants: 7,237 students
Age of Participants: Designed for high school students (ages 14-18) and their teachers
Team Members: Chicago Architecture Foundation; Chicago's architectural and engineering community, advisory team members; Chicago Public Schools, partners in testing, development, and use; Jennifer Masengarb, author (CAF), and Krisann Rehbein, project coordinator (CAF)
Tens of thousands of high school students across United States take an architectural drafting course each year. While teenage students who emerge from these courses often become highly proficient in CAD and rendering software, many lack both an understanding of architectural concepts and the skills to look critically at the built environment around them. Many students at this level are also not typically exposed to the design process, sustainable design principles, or influential contemporary and historic buildings. To address this challenge, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) created "The Architecture Handbook: A Student Guide to Understanding Buildings" in late 2007. The book stands as the first high school architecture textbook in the US. Students learn the fundamental skills of technical drawing in service of the larger goal of understanding sustainable architectural design. In addition, educators receive step-by-step activities and connections to the core academic subjects.
In August 2004, CAF opened a dialogue about the current state of architectural education in high schools across Chicago, building on CAF’s 26-year history of working with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) through student workshops, teacher professional development, and an annual architecture competition. At the time, teachers and students in CPS were using a drafting manual written in 1951 when becoming a draftsman was a viable career path after high school graduation. CAF’s text shifts away from a pedagogy based on replication and memorization. Instead, new hands-on lessons encourage critical thinking, creativity, and group collaboration to solve 21st century design problems.
This ground-breaking project—led by CAF—set out to radically change the way that architecture was taught to 1,500 teenagers in the CPS, the country’s third-largest school district. A strong and unique three-year partnership brought together more than 40 local architects, 10 high school teachers, 6 student advisors, and 4 local university officials. Three primary advisory teams—architects, teachers, and students—came together to brainstorm ideas, develop content, and test activities.
"The Architecture Handbook" uses the F10 House, an award-winning sustainable home in Chicago, as the case study building. Green architecture concepts are woven throughout the entire book, as students are introduced to issues including: connections to public transportation, permeable landscapes, passive systems, module construction, green roofs, and recycled materials. Students are also introduced to 10 significant homes in the US and around the world designed by Wright, Le Corbusier, Palladio, Mies van der Rohe, Murcutt, and Legorreta. Cartoons illustrating architectural concepts provide humor, while a magazine-inspired layout makes the text relevant and accessible for teenagers.
To support essential literacy and math skills, each chapter includes a 500-700 word reading with comprehension and analysis questions, as well as 10-15 math problems that tie directly to the big architectural ideas.
A 600-page teacher edition in a 3-ring binder contains more than 60 hands-on classroom activities. The teacher edition also includes a CD-ROM with activity image sets, a set of construction drawings for the case study home, and integrated projects in social science, life science, language arts, and chemistry.
Outcomes and Evaluation of the Project
In 2008, external evaluators conducted a formal review to examine how teachers implemented “The Architecture Handbook” which was adopted as the official textbook for the Architecture and Construction Career Cluster in the Chicago Public Schools. The study investigated the impact of the text on students’ architectural knowledge, design skills, and career development attitudes. Teachers and students using the curriculum were surveyed, observed, and tested. Architects who participated as advisors in the development of the text were interviewed as they evaluated final student work in CAF’s annual architecture competition.
The evaluation indicated that teachers receiving professional development were more likely to implement the curriculum as written. Students who used the text showed an increase in their ability to “think like an architect.” Architects indicated that the students need: 1) more practice transferring their technical skills from replication projects to their own designs; and 2) need more guidance to understand how the built environment can be designed to better meet end-user needs. While these are two areas for improvement, architects were excited to see high-quality original designs among the high school level student work.
While the text was originally created to meet the needs of a distinctly Chicago audience and push for dramatic curriculum reform locally, the text has had broad appeal and is used throughout the US. Currently “The Architecture Handbook” is used in 300 schools in 40 states and 10 countries. In hindsight, seeing how the text is now used across the country, CAF staff should have formed another national advisory team of educators.
Founded in 1966, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public interest and education in architecture and design. CAF presents a comprehensive program of architecture tours, exhibitions, lectures, special events, and adult, family, and youth education activities, all designed to enhance public awareness and appreciation of Chicago's outstanding architectural legacy. With a total audience of 496,000 in 2009, CAF serves as a forum for the public to learn and engage in dialogue about the built environment. This past year, CAF developed Chicago Model City, a large scale model of the city and presented 158 lectures and programs to audiences of all ages. In addition, CAF’s volunteer corps of 450 docents led more than 85 different tours with 8,200 departures.
Youth Education programs at CAF annually reach approximately 34,000 pre-kindergarten–12th grade students, educators, and parents in the Chicago region and throughout the US. These programs include: monthly skill-building workshops for teenagers, professional development workshops for teachers, monthly family programs, an annual architecture competition for high school students, an architects-in-the-schools program, field trips for school groups in grades 3 – 12, and teacher and student curricular materials. By introducing young people to Chicago's architecture and design, CAF's Youth Education programs foster students' sense of belonging to, and stewardship of, their built environment and community.