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Mentorships in elementary schools showcase final exhibits at downtown architecture firms

At May's First Thursday downtown, four architecture firms and Pioneer Place displayed the student work from the Architecture in Schools program.

Architects in Schools, a program through the Architecture Foundation of Oregon (AFO) exhibits feature design projects from elementary school students created through a mentorship with an architect or engineer.SUBMITTED: SALLY PAINTER FOR AFO - The Architects in Schools exhibit opened First Friday, May 4 at Opsis Architecture (shown) and three other locations.

The four locations were Ankrom Moisan Architects, DOWA-IBI Group, Opsis Architect and Pioneer Place.

Kim Knowles, associate director of the AFO, told the Business Tribune more than 2,900 students are participating in the Portland tri-county area and a total of 4,500 students participating statewide.

"The Architects in Schools exhibits are an exciting way for students to have a public component to the work they do in the classrooms with the design professionals," Knowles said. "The students get to have their work on display for the general public and show it off to family and friends, which is rewarding."

The program began in the early 1970's in Portland and the exhibit of Architects in Schools projects at the end of the students' residencies with design professionals has been a trademark of the program for most of its existence.

"AFO has expanded the number of exhibits in accordance with the growth of students in the program," Knowles said. "It is a great culmination of the program for students to present their work publicly, just as design professionals (such as architects and engineers) do with their design work."

Over six weeks, the students learn that design surrounds us, we make decisions every day that affect our environment, subjects they study in school apply to the real world, there are lots of career opportunities like architects, landscapers, engineers, contractors and urban planners, and that designing and building spaces is a process not a product.SUBMITTED: SALLY PAINTER FOR AFO - A student from Skyline Elementary shows off her project.

Partner firms

Jennifer Gentry is the marketing manager with DOWA-IBI Group.

"The heart of our work comes from who we design schools for: the students," Gentry told the Business Tribune. "Being engaged with students stimulated inspiration and ignites our passion for designing educational spaces and building awareness of the built environment."

DOWA-IBI specializes in education and public architecture.

"We have had the privilege of partnering with Architects in Schools for several years sharing our passion for education and design," Gentry said. "We look forward to supporting the Architecture Foundation of Oregon for many more years to come."

Sina Meier, LEED AP with Opsis Architecture, has been with the firm for three years.

"When I first started there was another group of people here who were involved with the program," Meier said. "I had missed my chance to participate, but I saw them go through it and be a part of the exhibit Opsis is hosting as part of five locations."

In the following years, she made sure she was involved in the program.

"We currently have four staff working with a classroom," Meier said. "(Opsis) is all supportive of being flexible when we're out of the office."

In a November orientation, architects get teamed up with a teacher from the third to fifth grades.

"You can choose to work with a teacher you've worked with previously, and meet and talk about the residency there," Meier said. "The design professionals go in the classroom, work with the teacher in developing a curriculum for students meant to tie into other things they are currently learning."SUBMITTED: SINA MEIER FOR OPSIS - Sina Meier of Opsis worked with a third grade at the Metropolitan Learning Center on a project titled Me as a building.

The residencies start in early spring and are six weeks long.

"There is a binder with exercises and curriculum to draw from," Meier said. "Teams are welcome to explore other things as well that work for the students in the class."

She went to the classroom six times for two hours each.

"We worked with three classrooms — one was a two-grade classroom (fourth and fifth)," Meier said. "We have two staff working with them at the Trillium School up on Interstate. Then we worked with a classroom in Milwaukie and my school is a metro learning center here in our neighborhood."

She asked the kids to think about if they were a building, what would they look like and what would a visitor see.

"My project was titled 'Me as a building,'" Meier said. "We were first looking at architecture from around the world, finding out why buildings look similar in different places, what are some of the driving factors of what determines what a building looks like from the outside, what's the weather like, who's the client. We studied architecture from the inside out: what does the building feel like, what does light look like, what do sound and smell do."


"So many children come beaming into the exhibits, thrilled to see their projects being viewed by so many people interested in what they did," Knowles said. "Students also get to see many different projects that other students in the program created."

While there is definitely a component of career education to Architects in Schools, the goal isn't to product mini architects or engineers.SUBMITTED: KIM MOFFAT FOR DOWA-IBI - Student projects included anything from entire cityscapes to flower shops and raceways.

"We want students to begin to build an awareness of design in their lives and how it connects to their present and their future," Knowles said. "They hopefully decide to incorporate design into their work as adults."

Meier said she always sees a few kids come up and tell her they want to be an architect, or when meeting the families at the exhibits she finds some have older siblings going into architecture.

"One thing about the program that's really unique is that it is of course about architecture in the professional world, but also about design in general and how they understand design and know how to observe and be part of an environment," Meier said. "You feel more a part of it and you might be able to contribute and participate better. That's what the program is about — to teach kids design is all around them and they can influence the community in a good way."

By Jules Rogers
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When: Monday, May 15 - Monday, May 22

What: Architects in Schools projects will be on display with May 20th specially focused on the program.

Where: OMSI, 1945 S.E. Water Ave.

"Architects, engineers and contractors who participated in the program will be presenting lessons and activities to museum goers from Architecture as a Basic Curriculum Builder, our curriculum guide for the AiS program," Knowles said. "Children visiting the museum can get some fun hands-on experience with AiS activities such as experimenting with What Makes Structures Stand Up, designing a space for a special animal client and examine How it Feels to be a Structure."

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