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mind mapping, collaging, architect on demand, advice without strings, DIY Like an Architect

Even in my wildest dreams, I had never considered becoming an architect until someone asked: “Why don’t you study architecture?” He was a stranger — my jaw dropped: “But I don’t even know how to draw!”

At sixteen, that serendipitous encounter set my life on a new course. And now — you guessed it — I teach architecture classes to creative teenagers who are considering architecture as a profession.

It’s my fifth year facilitating a hands-on workshop as part of a year-round public Saturday High Program for high school students at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. Each semester I am allotted ten three-hour sessions.

First meeting. Where do we begin? I distribute a student profile and as they are filling it out, I write a Peter Lorenz quote on the board: “We do not know anything about the future, but we will arrange it, nevertheless.”

mind mapping, alla diy ally

mind mapping

I want to learn about them by focusing on issues related to their personal environment. It’s a good idea to start with something familiar and ask unexpected questions. I marvel at how clear they are about their needs. These creative teens speak with conviction. We talk about what interests and annoys them.

What a nice group. Keeping their attention for three hours is surprisingly easy. They are giving up their Saturday to take an architecture class. And they are actually opening up! I am encouraging them to think out loud. What does it mean to “accommodate functional needs?” We establish that “play requires space.”

Mind mapping

Next, according to plan, is my presentation of mind mapping, a process of opening one’s mind to 360 degrees of associations. I learned about this technique from the book called How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb. Everyone weighs in while we create a group mind map MY IDEAL ROOM.

My creative teens are engaged and pick up on the concepts immediately. It’s a place to rest, work, sleep, play, read, learn, get ready, and eat. We are using key words or codes to establish connections, systems, networks. I am quickly writing down the insights that are coming from all directions. We are getting somewhere! Someone says: “It should have a kitchen.”

So far so good. Next step is to do an individual version of the mind map. In the meantime, I am feeling encouraged: the class is designed to follow my how-to book called DIY Like an Architect: 11-step method and every single time it is a test of how well the system works.


Last hour is allocated to making a collage interpretation of their individual mind maps. A single requirement is to have an image in the middle that represents them. I brought piles of magazines. They intently cut and rip. Perhaps for this age group, it is an equivalent of getting on the floor and playing with blocks.

mind mapping, alla diy ally


It is my intention to make this architecture class about feelings spaces we inhabit stir up. I want my creative teens to start noticing things they have never paid attention to before. Plus, we will be asking countless questions in the process of going from familiar to fresh. I will also teach them about circulation, context and how to use an architectural scale. What a fascinating journey to embark on!


  • July 3, 2015

    Hello! I am 15 years old and would like to study architecture in college. What classes should I take in high school? Thanks

    • July 3, 2015

      Linda, I don’t believe there are any pre-requisites. Just keep your eyes open and get into a mindset of ongoing exploration. Read and be curious. Ask lots of open-ended questions. Best of luck to you.

  • August 20, 2015

    How many students are usually in a group per session taking Architecture class at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena?

  • October 13, 2015

    It seems that you are able to find a key to each kid. How do you do that?

    • October 15, 2015

      Thank you, Lilly! I really enjoy helping each one individually. They all have their own interests and objectives and it’s important to give them precisely what they need.

  • October 20, 2015

    Beautiful post, as always!

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