From the Ground Up: Art in American Built Environment Education

Article excerpt

We must begin now to teach our young students about art and architectural 's ign as "expression of ideas," and use concepts and skills in art education struct and inspire them about: (a) their cultural heritage, including buildings; (b) cultural diversity in architectural styles; (c) related histories and contexts which influence architecture; especially (d) influences of change and resulting trends in architectural design. Of course technology, global ecology, and the notion of sustainable architecture are included in any informed discussion of past, present, or future built environments.

Begin with the Young

Very young children ages 4-7, as well as elementary students ages 7-10, can and should be engaged in built environment lessons in school, as part of their art education. Most educational resources available in the United States, including the program discussed here;: are aimed at older secondary students. However, researchers have recently begun to address the need for curriculum and instructional strategies for very young students in built environment education Neperud,1999).

Researchers and teachers are suggesting that directed children's play with blocks (as first noted by Frederick Froebel, founder of the kindergarten movement) and other everyday-household objects such as laundry baskets, appliance boxes, tea kettles, telephone books, chairs, fast-food containers, and bed sheets can become rich construction materials with which to build a variety of structures at any scale (Szekely, 1991) Children's knowledge and skills in architecture might begin at home with rocks, dirt, sticks, logs, ice, blocks, and other items. Block-building activity should continue as a vital part of early childhood education in the art classroom (Walker,1995). Teachers have also found that very young children learn to manipulate space and form, and develop a basis for understanding the relationship between art, science, and mathematics, which is the foundation of architecture (Kolodziej, 1999; Szekely,1991).

As educators we must take this idea one step further. If we are truly thinking and educating for the future, we must plan for those children not yet born. To develop and implement any kind of change in curriculum and instruction, at any level, takes considerable effort and time. We should initiate a planning process now, not only in our own institutions, but also in our communities. We must initiate proposals at the national and international levels that outline a built environment education for all students. Architecture is no longer considered a subject of study only for university students. Teachers need our guidance and leadership to develop curriculum and instruction strategies. With all of the built environments of the world, where do we begin?

The Kentucky Project

One approach is to start at home, with local buildings and landscapes as resources for beginning a study of architecture. For example, the director of the Kentucky Society of Architects wrote a grant to the Kentucky Humanities Council to fund a six part video program for the general public called From the Ground Up. Included in the funding was a teacher's guide for secondary students, aimed at older middle school students and younger high school students in grades 7-11. The purpose of the project was to provide secondary students with an informed study of their architectural heritage that addressed styles in American architecture as an "expression of ideas"; political, social, and international influences; and the ever-present notion of change in the built environment.

Members of both state agencies negotiated, then selected six areas for study and filming across the state: communities, government buildings, religious structures, designed landscapes, industrial buildings, and residential structures. The selected sites addressed as much as possible the related professions of: architecture, landscape architecture, interiors, urban planning, and historic preservation, reflecting college programs across the United States. …