Next Generation Designers & Builders


Next Generation Designers & Builders

At the beginning of July, I had the pleasure to participate in AIA Alaska Northern Section’s first-ever architecture workshop for kids. The design problem: the perfect tree fort or clubhouse. The solutions: ten incredibly different and creative structures with ladders, hammocks, zip lines, water collection systems, off-grid alternative energy technology, power & data sharing infrastructure, seasonal adaptations, boat docking capabilities, and so much more.

The idea for an architecture summer camp was hatched in January, and planning began in earnest in March. A core group of three of us planned the curriculum and created the workshop materials. Through a fruitful partnership with The Folk School ( ), the class was advertised, registrations processed, and a COVID-safe outdoor class location at Pioneer Park was provided.

The week before the workshop, families picked up card sets for a preworkshop scavenger hunt. Local graphic designer Sue Sprinkle created the sleek double-sided card design. Images of local architecture from a variety of locations in Fairbanks and North Pole, rated by difficulty to find, challenged students to look more closely at their built environment and to discover the buildings during their normal travels around town.

Thursday, July 8, the day of the workshop, dawned cloudily, but the sun began peeking through the clouds by afternoon. A short-lived burst of wind required some extra stones to keep papers from blowing away and the following brief downpour was easily deflected by our open-sided tent covers. Ten students and six local architects, including four architects from Bettisworth North, attended the workshop, providing an excellent ratio of students to instructors. Pre-made model kits including a plaster base with real tree branches embedded for scale trees and a variety of model materials were set out for each student. Hot glue guns and scissors supplied the primary tools for building and sculpting.

During the four-hour workshop, kids aged 8 to 13 designed and built scale models of their tree forts and clubhouses. Students learned about the plan, section, and elevation drawing types and then used these drawing types to plan their designs. Another scavenger hunt, this time a more traditional hunt with clues placed around various historic buildings within Pioneer Park, provided an opportunity for stretching legs, discussing buildings, and collecting more ideas for the tree forts and clubhouses.

Then it was time to build. Translating the drawings into models, difficulties, as well as new opportunities, emerged. Ideas were cross-pollinated throughout the group as the kids took time to see what others were building. The students considered an amazing variety of factors, from seasons to infrastructure, to program, to imagining and creating sheer fun and joy. In the end, each designer presented their model to the group, discussing departures from the original design drawings, building features, and connections to the surrounding context. Several models were even connected to adjacent models.

As chair of the AIA Alaska Northern Section, I am so happy to have been able to help bring this opportunity to learn about architecture to local youth. But even better, I was thrilled by our students’ excitement and creativity as well as the terrific models that they produced. With the lessons learned from this inaugural class, we are already planning and looking forward to offering the class again next year, and hopefully for many years to come.

Author | Brittany Rozier, Architect
Brittany joined the Bettisworth North team in 2012 bringing with her exceptional skills in graphic renderings and presentation development. Brittany has been living and designing in Alaska for the past eight years. When she not pursuing her passion for design she is out exploring Alaska, she enjoys playing and coaching soccer and exploring the outdoors with her 1-year old.

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