Students explore new careers 

Unique partnership results in cutting-edge architecture curriculum.

Chicago Architecture Foundation | September 23, 2008

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. 


When CPS high school students open their new textbooks on the first day of school, they don't typically find many Chicago places, people, or events inside. But when 300 10th grade students in 25 CPS high schools open their brightly-colored blue architecture books this September, they may notice something very different—photographs and stories of Chicago bungalows and alleys, readings from local author Stuart Dybeck, and math problems calculating the volume of water that falls on a 25x125 Chicago lot during a powerful August rainstorm.


The Architecture Handbook: A Student Guide to Understanding Buildings is the first architecture textbook in the nation for high school students and created in partnership with the Chicago Public Schools and Education To Careers (ETC) program. Written by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) and published in the summer of 2007, this groundbreaking publication has become the official text in architectural drafting classrooms at CPS. The 400-page student edition is supplemented by the 600-page teacher edition. 


CPS leads the nation in using and helping to develop innovative curriculum for architecture students. The text is distinctive in three ways:


  1. It was designed specifically for urban high school students.
  2. It introduces students to the latest architectural trends, including sustainable green buildings.
  3. It marks the culmination of a unique three-year partnership between CPS students and teachers, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, 40 Chicago architects, and local universities.

And beginning in the 2008-2009 school year, 120 other high schools and community colleges in Illinois and 37 states across the country will also use The Architecture Handbook—a book which had it origins right here in Chicago. 


History of the project

The Chicago Architecture Foundation and the Chicago Public Schools have worked closely together for the last 26 years to run the Newhouse Program & Architecture Competition for Chicago public high school students. This program—named for the late Illinois State Senator Richard Newhouse—began as a one-time event and since has evolved into a year-round program offering architecture skill-building workshops, paid summer internships, a series of architect school visits, teacher professional development workshops, and a much expanded annual architecture competition with 400 entries per year.  But as the competition grew and higher level skills were demanded of the students, CPS officials knew the curriculum needed to change as well.


Why teach architecture in CPS high schools?

In the 21st century, the skills expected from students in any occupation have changed from those requiring replication, repetition, and memorization, to skills more relevant to an economy based on innovation, flexibility, and creativity. Today, most employers desire students who have workplace-ready technical skills and who can work in teams and creatively address problems to generate new solutions. 

The Architecture Handbook makes career connections for tenth and eleventh grade students. The curriculum provides an introduction to the fields of architecture, construction, structural engineering, interior design, urban planning, and landscape architecture.


The people and the process

Beginning in 2004, the Chicago Architecture Foundation brought together CPS high school teachers and students, ETC career and technical education officials, architects and engineers, the Chicago philanthropic community, and local universities over a three-year period.  As a result, The Architecture Handbook reflects trends and current industry standards. 


Ten CPS teachers participated as part of a pilot team to test the book as it was being written. For two school years, these teachers used a working draft of the curriculum and met monthly with CAF staff to discuss what worked and what didn't work. Teacher Jaime Rodriguez of the Chicago Discovery Academy explains, "As an architect and teacher I enjoy sharing my passion for architecture with my students. My students really enjoyed learning about buildings through the readings and hands-on activities in the book."


And from the beginning of the project, six CPS high school students met every Monday evening at CAF for an entire school year to test out activities and give feedback. Their input was critical to the success of the materials and the process. At Kennedy High School, 6325 West 56th St., one student who used the book last year said, "This is the best book we have in school now." One reason: "It was designed by kids like us."


Reading + math + science + history + art = architecture

Reading and math are integrated throughout each chapter of the book to reinforce essential student skills.  A 600-page teacher edition with CD-ROM contains more than 60 hands-on classroom activities that make connections to state drafting standards, Illinois' core subject academic standards, and technological literacy standards. In addition to reading about the history of buildings, students also calculate square footage, investigate the science of how buildings stand up, and learn how ideas in art have influenced architects. Throughout each chapter, architecture vocabulary/definitions and an extensive list of resources help students investigate ideas further.


A student at Roberto Clemente High School, 1147 North Western Ave., said The Architecture Handbook is the most exciting book in school.  "This is all stuff I can apply to real life.  The vocabulary, math, everything, it's all combined and helps me in my other classes."  


Features of the student and teacher editions

The Architecture Handbook uses the F10 House, an 1800 sq. ft. award-winning green home in Chicago, as its case study building. The house, designed by EHDD Architecture, takes its name from the concept that it was designed to reduce its environmental impact by a factor of 10 compared to the average American home. Throughout each chapter, students compare and contrast their own home with the F10 House and with 10 famous homes in the US and around the world, such as the Robie House in Chicago designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the influential Farnsworth House in Plano, IL, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.


Project Support
The Architecture Handbook was developed and published with the generous support of the following donors: Chicago Public Schools/Education To Careers, The Allstate Foundation, American Architectural Foundation, The Brinson Foundation, CNA Foundation, Arie & Ida Crown Memorial, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, The Albert Pick, Jr. Fund, Polk Bros. Foundation, and Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company Foundation.


What's next?

The Chicago Architecture Foundation staff, CPS teachers and students, as well as Chicago's architectural community have begun the research and development for level two of The Architecture Handbook. This new curriculum will be web-based and interactive. 


For more information, visit .