Architecture by Children embeds learning in discovery of the built environment

Kyle Campbell remembers designing his first house when he was home sick from school in the fourth grade. 

“Ever since then, going through high school, while most people would go out and do things, I would actually build models of houses I designed just for fun,” he says. “Coming into architecture was sort of a long time coming.” 

Campbell, who currently serves as the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati’s board member for the Architecture by Children program, did not initially make the decision to major in architecture, but he says the built environment has always had a huge impact on him. 

“I was a huge LEGO nerd,” says Campbell. “So the thought of building space and constructing things and designing things has always been a big part of who I am.” 

Now Campbell is sharing his childhood love with others in the ABC program. Jointly sponsored by the AFC and a local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the program aims to teach architectural principles to students through hands-on projects, as explained by volunteer architects. 
 
Campbell is one of those volunteers, but he’s also working to evaluate the program by matching it with the Ohio Department of Education's academic content standards to ensure that it has a lasting educational impact. 

“The AFC, as of this year, has decided that we want to take a more invested role in how the program unfolds because essentially, what we’ve been in the past is a donor of money,” Campbell says. “We’d like to be able to provide more manpower and more resources to help it be more successful.” 

The program currently reaches about 60 schools and 1,100 students, with ideally one architect assigned to each school. Participating students are tasked with a new project each year. This year, they are designing a museum of their choice for a space at 12th and Vine streets downtown. 

One seventh grade student has envisioned a nature museum with a river running throughout and a grand staircase with water flowing from the roof to simulate a waterfall that flows into an outdoor pond the public can enjoy. Her museum also contains a fountain enclosed in glass so people who are not inside the museum can interact with it.

“It’s just amazing coming from a seventh grader because those are the things I’d dream to do in a real-world project,” Campbell says. “The most important thing is to keep the kids understanding that it’s okay to be creative and to think outside the box.”

Campbell says he’s proud of the architecture this city has to offer, and he’s made it a personal goal to help the AFC achieve its mission of “educating the greater community of Cincinnati on the built environment.” 

“Most people don’t realize that Cincinnati has a fantastic history in architecture; it’s actually one of the most historical cities in the development of modern architecture,” Campbell says. “I want to be able to use the AFC as a way of educating the general public on those kinds of things.” 

Do Good: 

• View ABC student projects at the downtown branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County during the week of April 13-20. 

Contact the AFC if you live in a home or know of a historically significant building that you'd like to share or learn more about. 

• Attend the AFC's exhibit,  ENVISION CINCINNATI. 

By Brittany York

Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a teacher at the Regional Institute of Torah and Secular Studies. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.
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