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Chicago Architecture Center: Science of Architecture Tour for Kids


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This presentation re-casts the Chicago Architecture Center's student tour, Science of Architecture, for a suburban neighborhood. Due to school closures in spring 2020, schools and students were unable to take advantage of this downtown Chicago program. So, I recast it a self-guide program for kids and their parents to learn a little about architecture and see their neighborhood in a new way.

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Chicago Architecture Center: Science of Architecture Tour for Kids

  1. 1. Science of Architecture in your neighborhood There are seven basic structures in architecture and three forces that effect these structures Let’s learn about them! Then walk around your neighborhood and see how many structures you can find **Be sure to practice social distancing!**
  2. 2. THE THREE FORCES All structures are affected by at least one of these three forces Architects and builders need to think about these forces when creating a building GRAVITY Gravity is a force that pulls objects towards the earth Try this! • Jump as high as you can. How long can you stay in the air? Not long. That’s gravity pulling you down • Hold something in your hand. Let go. What happens? It falls to the ground. That’s gravity COMPRESSION Compression pushes, presses or squeezes a structure Try this! • Clasp your hands on top of your head. Pull down. Did it feel you were getting shorter? That’s compression • Squeeze a sponge between your hands. What happens? That’s compression TENSION Tension stretches or pulls on a structure Try this! • Reach your arms toward the ceiling. Reach as high as you can. Do you feel the stretch? That’s tension • See how long you can stretch a rubber band. That’s tension
  3. 3. THE 7 STRUCTURES: Columns • A vertical or upright structure that holds things up • Compression is the force that affects columns • Can be plain or fancy – see illustration below Try this!  • Roll a piece of paper and tape edges. How many books you can stack on top? • Try different types of paper. Can you stack more books on some papers than others? Why? Types of Columns
  4. 4. THE 7 STRUCTURES: Column & Beam • A horizontal beam held up by two columns • Used to hold up ceilings, roofs and floors and frame windows & doors • Columns under compression, but beam under tension • Have you ever seen a roof, ceiling or doorway sag or dip down in the middle? • This happens because the beam is under tension. Either columns too far apart, or materials not strong enough Try this!  • Make your own column & beam with blocks and stryofoam. Can you make the beam sag?
  5. 5. THE 7 STRUCTURES: Cantilever • A horizontal beam that is held up at only one end • Used when the space underneath the beam needs to be free and clear, like over doorways, balconies or diving boards • Column under compression, but beam under tension ____________________________ Try this!  • Make your own cantilever with blocks and stryofoam • How do you position the beam so it doesn’t tip over? How does adding weight to the beam change that?
  6. 6. THE 7 STRUCTURES: Truss • A series of triangles connected side by side • Used when its necessary to withstand strong forces, carry heavy loads or span long distances • Triangles are the most stable shape because they balance the forces of tension and compression • Lighter than, but equally strong as, a solid beam of same size
  7. 7. THE 7 STRUCTURES: Arch • Curved opening that holds a heavy load across a long span • Used to create a wide, tall openings • Compression is the force that holds an arch together • The keystone (top piece) exerts compression on the voussoirs (side pieces) – all voussoirs under compression Types of Arches
  8. 8. THE 7 STRUCTURES: Vault • Curved structure created through a series of arches placed back-to-back • Often used to make tunnels because of ability to hold heavy loads • Compression is the force that holds vaults together Barrel Vault Ribbed VaultCross Vault Types of Vaults
  9. 9. THE 7 STRUCTURES: Dome • A curved structure created by arranging a series of arches in a circle • Without the help of any columns, domes enclose an enormous amount of space • Often used in government buildings, churches, museums and sports stadiums • Compression is the force that holds a dome together Try this! ➔ • Make your own dome using a bowl and blocks • How many toys can you fit underneath?
  10. 10. Walk. Look. See. You can find almost all the seven structures of architecture in our neighborhood Walk around and see how many you can find When you find one of the seven structures, think about: • What forces are effecting the structure? **Tension, compression or both? • What job is the structure doing? **Is it holding something up? **Is it carrying a heavy load? **Does it create an opening? If you want to learn more, visit or
  11. 11. Columns
  12. 12. Columns & Beams You can often tell where the columns & beams are by looking at the pattern of windows.
  13. 13. Cantilever
  14. 14. Truss The only truss I could find nearby was in O’Brien Park, but you see trusses all around the city O’Brien Park 875 N. Michigan Ave. The “L”
  15. 15. Arch A series of side by side arches is called an arcade. When arches are filled in by a wall or other material, it’s called a blind arch
  16. 16. Vault I couldn’t find any vaults nearby, so I’ve included a few from around Chicago Macy’s (Marshall Field’s) on State Street 190 S. LaSalle Street Blue Line Station at Monroe
  17. 17. Dome I could find only a few domes nearby, so I’ve included some from around the state Ascension Church, Oak Park Illinois State Capital Building, Springfield Backyard Fun – Truss helps make strong Top of Water Tower is Dome