January 2006: Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust
As the steward of two Frank Lloyd Wright architectural gems in the Chicago area, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust knows a thing or two about architecture. The organization also knows, from 14 years of offering its summer Youth Architecture Workshops, that the study of architecture is an exciting way for middle-school students to learn spatial concepts, gain visual literacy, and practice mathematical calculations and measurements. Only a small number of the students, however, have been able to participate in the workshops each year because of the historic sites’ lack of space. With the creation of Architect Studio 3D, the museum has been able to break through the physical constraints of its sites and offer learning and excitement about architectural design to middle-school students across the country and beyond.
Architect Studio 3D is an interactive Web-based activity that enables users to become virtual architects, finding design solutions that meet the needs of virtual clients and virtual building sites. The user selects a client seeking a residential design—from a range of people with specific needs—selects a site location, and designs a floor plan in real time using tools on the Web site. Users draw walls to create rooms and hallways and click and grab symbols for various elements, like windows, doors and sinks, to place in the floor plan. The Web site gives virtual architects different digital views of their work in progress, including floor plans and elevations, and enables them to take a virtual tour of the house once it is designed, furnished, and landscaped.
In addition to the design studio, there is a design gallery where virtual architects can post their completed projects and receive star ratings from Web site visitors. The site also includes an architect’s handbook, a visual glossary called "Designing for People and Place," a section on the life and works of Frank Lloyd Wright, and curriculum and program ideas for teachers and librarians.
A major goal of Architect Studio 3D is to show middle-school students that architects design for their clients, not themselves. They design to meet the needs of people and the particulars of place. Listening to clients is a part of the process. The project’s creators also wanted to convey an understanding of the tools and techniques architects use; describe the components of residential buildings, such as plumbing, light sources, and heating and cooling; and teach how to read and create floor plans and elevations.
The museum knew that its target group of 11- to 14-year-olds is technologically savvy, and that only a technologically rich interactive experience would sustain their interest. From its previous work, the museum also knew that young people need creative expression and activities that lead to achievable goals. Using 3-D modeling software developed by Educational Web Adventures (St. Paul, MN), the museum took on the challenge of presenting spatial concepts in a virtual environment.
The project team’s design effort was shaped by focus groups and an evaluation logic model. At the start, members of the team had envisioned activities to design homes with multiple levels and even communities. Completing the logic model required the members to clearly state the educational goals of the project. It gave them a signpost to keep the project from veering too far a field.
Focus groups conducted with middle-school students led to additional changes to the project design. Students suggested that they be given an unlimited budget for designing their buildings. The building sites they preferred were also extreme: mountaintops, beachfronts, and forests, but not suburban settings. When their structures were complete, the students wanted to tour the furnished houses, so furniture was added as elements that could be placed on the floor plan.
The museum contracted with an evaluation firm to develop an outcome-based evaluation plan with front-end, formative, and summative evaluations. It also teamed with educators for project input and to assist with the "For Teachers and Librarians" page of the site. A teacher in Florida helped with the descriptions of how the study of architecture connects with math, language arts, visual arts, science, social studies and sample challenge activities for students. A youth services librarian in Louisiana helped develop librarian activity suggestions, such as an architecture month display and a living history program.
Since Architect Studio 3D’s launch in April 2005, the site has recorded more than 125,000 sessions by users, with a spike in sessions after the start of school in September. The large majority of sessions last for more than 20 minutes, suggesting that users are completing their design activities. Most of users are from outside the Chicago area, some as far away as the United Kingdom.
The Web site briefly included a survey to test one of the project’s learning goals. More than 100 users completed an activity in response to the survey, which showed that 98 percent of them had learned how to correctly place elements such as a window or door on a floor plan. An analysis of the completed designs in the Design Gallery showed that users had also grasped the idea that their designs must contain features that help to meet client needs.
In January 2006, the project evaluator conducted focus groups with twelve students, aged 11 through 13. According to preliminary results, all of the students understood the concept that architects design for people and particulars of place. They had also gained a basic understanding of architectural spatial relations and the design process, and they had become more familiar with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Students’ comments reflected their learning: "I never realized that it was so hard being an architect because you have to measure out everything and pay attention to people’s style"; "[Architecture is] more than building something; you get to put your ‘art’ into it."
The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust has presented the Architect Studio 3D project at a variety of museum, technology, and educational venues. Not only is it generating interest among other historic sites as an education tool, it has stimulated a new kind of interest in the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. With the cutting-edge online offering, the museum has expanded the local community’s perception of the institution and generated greater interest in its museum’s educational programs.