Sharing Architecture With Kids
If you’re anything like me, my guess is that you loved your time in architecture school. What’s not to love? You get to use your talents and develop it with loose abandon, explore your interests and learn all about design and architecture – one of the coolest fields in the world.
What’s not to love? I was in my element. Those were the best 5 years of my life.
Then I got into the real world, and for 15 years, I was immersed in professional practice. As I gained more and more experience, inspiration became more and more elusive, as talk about tradition, rules, limited budgets, liability, and profitability started stifling my creativity.
I needed a creative outlet. And I stumbled upon one.
Two years ago, my daughter, who was 5 at the time, attended a summer camp in a local gifted school where one of the classes offered was called “art in architecture”. Ezri showed a lot of talent and interest in art and I thought this would be perfect for her. I was very curious as to who taught this interesting class. So, one day I went to class to see what it was all about. It was taught by one of the elementary school teachers.
A thought was planted in me that day. “Hey, I could teach that class.”
And so I did.
A year later, I taught summer camp in the same school, and the class I came up with was called “Architecture through the looking glass”. I went to several meetings, wrote a lesson plan for the 2-week class, came up with the projects and material lists, and executed. It was a lot of work for very little pay.
If architects gripe about not being valued, you should talk to teachers! Am I right?
At this point, I was running my own architecture practice. I had launched 6 months prior and I was not very busy. Clients were not flocking to me, but I had bills to pay.
You see, I was not the type who wanted to start my own business. I was happy being an employee. But then my husband and I had 2 kids, and work-life balance went out the door. The architecture-employee lifestyle, with minimum vacation and zero flexibility, on a meager pay, was unsustainable and quickly became unrewarding. After 15 years, I had plateaued in my career.
I’m a growth junkie!
I had to take matters into my own hands. So, I decided to launch my own business and design my own life. Except, I didn’t know the first thing about running a business. I had been fortunate enough to work for three very successful architecture businesses, so I guess I had some tactical tips, but no strategic plan. So, I started to learn all that I can about business.
My husband and I, we pared down our expenses in preparation for a rough start with my new business. One of our luxuries however, was that our kids attend a private school, a school that we love at every level. If my business didn’t make money that year, we would have to pull our kids out the next year. And that was non-negotiable for me. That would mean that I had failed. Gulp!
It occurred to me that what I did for the summer camp, I could easily do myself.
And so I did.
The revenue model was perfect for my situation. There was a surge in revenue because payment is due upon sign-up and you deliver the service over the next few months (Unlike traditional architectural services, where the payment is due after service is delivered).
ArchiKids opened for enrollment.
I introduced my architecture class to my kids’ private school as an after-care program. The response was overwhelming. Both classes I offered sold out in less than 2 weeks.
We had a very successful fall semester with the theme “No place like home.” We learned all about houses from around the world – architectural styles, systems, evolution over time, cultural differences, climatic conditions, etc.
I offered a class again in the spring about “Iconic Architecture,” where we look at a particular building and learn about what makes it iconic.
Now, if you think it’s easy to handle a class of 15 kids, it’s not. At the end of the hour, I am exhausted. Completely drained, you could say. It’s not like working on drawings in your studio all day. It requires a very different kind of energy and a ton of patience. Remember I’m not trained in classroom management. I just have loads of empathy, a genuine desire to connect with each kid and share my passion, and celebrate their creativity.
The parents love it. The idea of their kid dabbling in architecture at such a young age, with a professional nurturing their talents.
The kids love it. They build amazing imperfect models. Their happiness is clear when they greet me “Ms. Sharon, Ms. Sharon, what are we working on today?” Their enthusiasm is clear when they ask a gazillion questions. Their pride is clear when they pose for pictures with their drawings and models in hand. Isn’t project based learning the best way to learn. I thought there were studies. It’s definitely more fun.
I love it. I get to play. I get to build models, sketch, talk ideas and concepts, and learn architecture all over again through the same reckless creativity that I enjoyed so much in architecture school. I get to share my knowledge with the young ones and hang out with these creative people.
There is no limit to the topics or themes. The challenge is to come up with a single idea and carry it through the season; design a simple project that the kids can handle and wrap up in 1 hour of class.
As the academic year comes to an end, parents ask me, if I’m going to do the class again next semester? Can you offer it in another school? Can you offer private classes?
What’s the future for architecture and kids?
How can I serve more kids through more classes and schools? I am but one person.
It’s one thing to save cereal boxes and buy bamboo skewers for 25 kids. Quite an another to do so for 50+. Do I need a material supplier? Do I hire people? Is this another business altogether?
Now that I have clients and architecture to design for real projects, where is the time? How long can I continue this? What is the opportunity cost for my architecture practice?
However, an accidental entrepreneur is born.
I’m looking at different business models. What’s the best way to scale? How can I make this a sustainable business?
I have a vision for what this could be. Clearly, there is a demand.
I could become an entrepreneur in the true sense of the word and break away from the freelancer model, as Dale Partridge calls it.
Graduate from I DO IT, to WE DO IT, to THEY DO IT.
Let’s see 😊.
Cue the music, “How Far I’ll Go?” (from the Disney movie, Moana, for those ‘not in the know’)
Sharon George is the Owner and Principal Architect at Architecture By George, based in Austin, Texas. She earned her B.Arch in India, before graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with an M.S. in Architectural Studies, specializing in Sustainable Architecture.
She has over 15 years of experience in high-end and luxury custom residential design and construction in central Texas. She uses her expertise in building science and high-performance homes to help her clients make prudent decisions about energy efficiency and guide them towards sustainable choices.
She is actively involved with local non-profit organizations in an effort to elevate the value of architecture, empower women, help children, and benefit community causes.
She started the “architecture and kids” program in 2016 as a passion project. You can learn more about the program at www.architecturebygeorge.com/kids and see the kids’ projects at facebook.com/archikids/.