Student Eleni Witte shows off her designs for the Spiral Oak Hammock Shop, a project she created as part of the Cobb County Public Library system s Discover Architecture series. Photo by Tom Brooks.

Librarians, architects help kids discover better world

This summer, while some kids were off at camp, prepping for the fall SATs or getting through their binge lists, a group of youngsters around Cobb County were pondering how Marietta’s landmark Big Chicken could look even better. They also turned a critical eye to the Marietta Visitors Center, the Zuckerman art museum at Kennesaw State and the new SunTrust Park and Battery complex.

Reimagining how structures can be built for a specific purpose and audience was the aim of the Discover Architecture: Library Edition, a program that paired Cobb public librarians with volunteers from the American Institute of Architects Atlanta chapter and representatives from the architecture department at Kennesaw State. During four one-day sessions held this summer, the teams worked with kids to introduce them to and get them enthused about architecture.

“The theme of our summer reading this year was ‘Build a Better World,’ so this program was a good fit,” said Tom Brooks, the communications specialist for the Cobb library system. “It was also based on creativity and had a real-worldness about it. We’ve had success for a few years with our Girls in Engineering, Math and Science summer program, and we thought this would be another good one for young people.”

Brooks got the idea to create a summer series after hearing about Discover Architecture, a successful after-school program offered in select Atlanta elementary schools. The founders of that program produced a textbook filled with details on lessons and projects that fit nicely into a one-day event. Brooks brought the idea to Youth Services Librarian Amanda Densmore, who works out of the Vinings location.

“Tom mentioned this idea for a program, and I had to be a part of it,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to work with outside organizations and give kids something totally different— something that they may not expect from the library.”

Phillip Alexander-Cox, an art instructor at E. Rivers Elementary in Buckhead and a co-founder of the APS Discover Architecture program, was happy to provide resources and direction for the library program. It’s another way the concept has grown since he and architect and E. Rivers parent Melody Harclerode launched it seven years ago.

“The idea is to bring design education to young children, usually fourth and fifth graders,” said Alexander-Cox. “During our first year, it was just at E. Rivers, but then we added Garden Hills, and over the next year, we added four more. It’s grown so much that three years ago we published a guide book that’s available through Amazon so other schools, homeschoolers and groups like libraries can use it.”

The after-school version is a nine-week program, followed by an exhibition of student models and drawings. Ideally, sessions run by seven volunteers for 14 students feature hands-on projects, guest speakers and an exploration of architecture as a career. But it’s also about reinforcing important skills, said Alexander-Cox. “It’s about problem solving, too. And we do a lot of drawing to scale and communicating visually.”

The program has been so successful that it earned a grant to expand it to underserved neighborhoods, said co-founder Harclerode. “Architecture and design education is fundamentally valuable for kids because it’s a fusion of math, science, English, history and technology.”

Brooks said the summer program also gave students a chance to explore themes around economic development. “At least,” he said, “I thought of it that way. The kids just thought it was fun.”

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