DIY Like an Architect: Designing with Scaled Drawings and Models Simultaneously

DIY Like an Architect: Designing with Scaled Drawings and Models Simultaneously

Architecture class at Art Center’s Saturday High: week six. My creative teens are practicing how to think like an architect while working on steps  8 and 9 of the DIY Like an Architect: 11-step method.

Last time I ended the class with a quote from Virginia Woolf: “The success of the masterpieces seems to lie not so much in their freedom from faults… but in the immense persuasiveness of a mind which has completely mastered its perspective.”

I ask my creative teens to comment and express how they interpret this concept of “persuasiveness of the mind.” I make a mind map on the board:


  • Courageous
  • Impactful
  • Imaginative
  • Insightful
  • Thought-provoking
  • Inspiring growth

Yes, of course, capacity to think across boundaries means “not staying in your comfort zone.” Ability to incorporate lessons learned means “being quick on your feet.” To make an impact is “to be bold and willing to express what matters to you.” Growth is “maturity, wisdom, return to kindness.” Making progress is “setting attainable goals” as masterpieces take time to master.

Again, it’s the question of design process — a perfect time to introduce the topic of the day: “organizing circulation or 10 ways to promote movement.”

DIY Like an Architect: designing with scaled drawings and models simultaneously.
Designing in section

Today’s vocabulary is as follows:

homogeneous – uniform in structure throughout or composed of parts that are all of the same nature or kind

uniform – quality of being identical, homogeneous, or regular

accessible – barrier-free

We are designing with scaled drawings and models simultaneously. Mack has a hard time reconciling two levels. After making a quick massing model to help her visualize it, she needs to figure out the actual size of the staircase in plan.

John is changing his idea of making fenestration translucent on the ground level and transparent on the top. He draws a grand staircase in the middle. He is determined to promote movement.

Shawn, inspired by Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio, is busy cutting out a floor pattern. I caution him. Before getting carried away with small elements, he has to make sure that the scheme works both in floor plan and section. He hesitates, but eventually does go back to the drawing board. He is finally engaged, madly sketching all sorts of possibilities.

Ivonne is hanging on to her initial model of the room. I encourage her to work on adjacencies. She is struggling. Her plan is a labyrinth of rectangles of various sizes, not spaces.  Her assignment is to think it through by looking at actual rooms.

DIY Like an Architect: designing with scaled drawings and models simultaneously.
“Entering” a space with a model

Sophia is moving forward, still experimenting with changes in the ground plane, in section. She is really pushing herself. I feel that she is on the verge of a breakthrough.

Tyler is happy with the way the floor plan is shaping up and wants to focus on “progression of space.” I encourage him to relate first and second levels to each other by overlaying drawings. Right before the end of the class, he walks up to me to show the result. He got it!

Irene is not relating ground level to top level yet. I suggest that she thinks of connecting them spatially — in section. The trick is designing with scaled drawings and models simultaneously.

Rachel is ambitiously incorporating a huge balcony wrapping around the second floor. But she has not thought of the structure to support it. I point it out. It’s all about going back and forth, persuasively mastering every nook and cranny.

Martin is expanding. He is building a larger model. I encourage him to mentally walk through the spaces he is designing.

Am I pushing my creative teens too hard, playing devil’s advocate? Am I confusing them? Am I asking too much? Not explaining enough? Probably not. I am simply encouraging them to think persuasively.


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  2. Joseph says:

    What was the most interesting answer that you heard in response to your “persuasiveness of the mind” question?

    1. Joseph, usually this question makes them stumble. It forces them to think, rather than pontificate. The answers emerge in the process of working on their projects. That is actually the idea. In a way, it’s a rhetorical question.

  3. Anwen says:

    Alla, do you allow your students to explore beyond the course framework? Isn’t it hard for creative people to follow precise instructions?

    1. Anwen, that’s an interesting point. Actually, the course is designed to let everyone explore their own thing, starting with individual mind maps, collages, and diagrams. Each project is very personal and even very tedious work becomes fun when it is part of the creative exploration.

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