Teens test out field of architecture in CampARCH summer program

James Tate

Scores of bulky, white 3-D geometric blocks in odd configurations and formations sat scattered around a spacious architecture studio, intermingled among two dozen teenagers sketching frantically on oversized drafting clipboards, designing against a ticking clock.

The concentration and creativity could be cut with a knife at this summer’s CampARCH, an annual program for high schoolers interested in visualization, construction science, landscape architecture and urban planning at Texas A&M’s College of Architecture.

The week-long, intensive-study course is the first higher education experience for many of the students, and a crash course in what they might study in a few short years.

Led by James Tate, assistant professor of architecture, the group created structures from the 3-D building blocks to learn about core ideas and basic principles of design.

“Each day we talk about a different type of architectural organization, from primitive huts to contemporary architecture, and they work collaboratively to come up with a design and construction,” he said.

Emerging as project leader in one exercise was Morgan Smith, 16, a junior at Plano West High School in Plano, Texas, who designed a primitive igloo-shaped hut and organized the blocks into sorted piles for its construction.

As she pointed and carried cubes to form a tight base for the hut, Tate interjected.

“Remember, we’re architects, so we have to consider form and utility,” he said, encouraging students to add an opening to the hut.

Smith and other classmates adjusted their blocks to create a window. Soon, each block was a part of, if only precariously in some places, a chunky dome with Smith sitting proudly inside.

“When I was young, I liked drawing and thought tall buildings were pretty cool,” she said later. “This is my way of trying it out. You get this sense of satisfaction when your design is picked and then built.”

Through the following days, the students advanced to Roman, Greek and Modern architecture, learned to understand positive and negative space in design and how to create an advanced design called an “exquisite corpse” drawing.

Their final project involved designing a cube using 27 of the building blocks, focused on making a single form out of the awkward shapes. The final product stood nine feet tall and wide, a visual triumph from just a week of theory and practice.

The students, said Tate, should be proud. They rose to the task.

“Every one of them is leaving with the ability to draw and design orthographic and parallel projection drawings,” Tate said. “They can sketch ideas and translate that sketch into material artifacts. They recognize scale and some have shown real progress both in spatial curiosity and in engaging architecture as a body of knowledge.”

By the end of the camp, Smith was certain of her intended field.

“I definitely want to be an architect now,” she said.

The next [CampARCH] (https://www.arch.tamu.edu/future/camparch/) will be held summer 2020.

Sarah Wilson

posted July 29, 2019