Build San Francisco Institute

The Build San Francisco Institute (Build SF) is a half day program for high school students interested in design, engineering or architecture.  Combining a rigorous academic program with professional mentorships, Build SF is a unique community educational partnership involving AFSF, the San Francisco Unified District (SFUSD) and more than two dozen major San Francisco architecture, engineering, and related firms. Students gain knowledge and skills, applying them in a real-world setting.

Evolving over 15 years from a summer mentorship into a year-long academic program, we offer fully accredited courses in Architectural Design and Environmental Science. Students work on real problems with the high-tech tools professionals use, including state of the art software such as Autodesk Revit, 3DS Max, Fusion 360, and SketchUp. Every student spends two days per week with an individual mentor in a major architecture, engineering, construction or design firm or civic agency. Students earn fifteen units of high school credit each semester which appear on the student’s transcript and are approved by the University of California for college admission.

The Build SF Model

A partnership between the SFUSD and the the AFSF, Build SF offers a unique combination of rigorous academic study with real-world work experience.  Students leave their schools at noon and travel (typically by bus) to the Architectural Foundation’s design studio in the SF Chronicle Building at 5th and Mission Streets. Three afternoons per week, students study under the direction of a credentialed high school teacher, earning academic credit while learning high-tech tools and applying them to solve real-world problems.  

Two afternoons per week, each student interns at an agency or private firm, working one-on-one with a professional architect, designer, or engineer as his/her personal mentor. Credits are granted through the student’s school and count towards graduation.


Who Should Apply?

The Build SF Institute is open to any SF public high school student 16 or older in good academic standing, up to 20 students per semester.  

Students with an interest in design, architecture, government, sociology, law, environmental studies, construction or engineering will all benefit.  


Build SF applies an original curriculum of project-based group work, providing multiple methods of demonstrating mastery of content and skills, with ample structure and supports for students of all learning styles and needs, including English-language learners.  Detailed rubrics offer concrete feedback from their instructor and through peer-review processes. 

The curriculum is accredited as two U.C. approved courses (Environmental Science “G” elective and Architecture and 



Design “F” visual arts) and a third course credit for their internship (“College & Career”).

Software platforms that students learn and demonstrate mastery of through BSFI:

Autodesk design platforms:



3DS Max

Fusion 360


Other design software:


Collaboration and presentation platforms:

Google Drive, Docs, Forms & Sheets


Individual Mentoring

Architects and engineers volunteer their time to mentoring individual students twice a week.  Student interns are given real work using the same tools as the partners in their host firm.  Through meetings, site-visits, and direct collaboration with the principals and employees of those firms, BSFI student interns gain insights into the working life of design professionals and leave inspired about their own future potential.

AFSF office studios

AFSF-Future Grads 2016 interns working
2016 Future Grads interns hard at work at AFSF

The Architectural Foundation’s design studio at 901 Mission St. (at 5th St., the Chronicle Building) provides an array of tools to support student learning and exploration of freehand drawing and sketching; construction of physical models; CAD-3D digital design, animation and rendering; and cloud-based collaborative research and design.  The California College of the Arts and Autodesk have helped us offer 20 cutting-edge work stations with the latest professional BIM and design software

What our alumni say about their experiences:

Looking back, Build SF was the highlight of my senior year of high school. Build SF introduced me to the world of architecture and sustainability. I feel like learned a lot more in Build SF than at my high school. And it has definitely impacted my choice in picking my major. My career goal is to help people lead more sustainable lifestyles, creating a greener environment for future generations.

  • Anna (BSFI, 2014-15)

Build is such a great program for high school seniors and juniors who have a passion for architecture or engineering or even the field of design, which I’m going into, to learn from. I see job applications in architecture and even interior design that require learning software programs like Revit that we learn at Build. Build definitely gives a leg up for high schoolers who want to get into the field and also apply to colleges for a major in architecture or engineer or design.  I definitely will always remember the experience I had there!

  • Jen (BSFI, 2014-15)

BSFI in the Media:

May Meredith.  “Volunteer architects, designers help SF students build dreams”.   SF Chronicle. Tuesday, November 4, 2014.

By day, they are typical high school students. But when 1:30 p.m. rolls around, they are working alongside real architects and designers, helping draw sketches, price out materials and make models of San Francisco’s ever-changing skyline….

Build San Francisco Institute is a unique collaboration between working professionals and the public schools to create a fully accredited “small learning community,” for juniors and seniors who love to build things…

Twice a week, they work alongside their mentors in a firm, getting a firsthand look at their chosen career. The other three afternoons a week, they gather in a design studio in The San Francisco Chronicle building South of Market for lessons on sustainability and the latest industry software, such as Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Revit Architecture.

Students dive into projects such as creating a livable community on Mars, complete with robots that break up surface ice to melt and filter into drinking water; domes for houses; and shipping containers with agricultural crops inside. Students used Autodesk 3-D animation software to present their futuristic city and collaborated with students in England and Australia….


“It’s beneficial to get experience outside of school,” said Nicole Chin, 16, of Philip and Sala Burton High School in San Francisco, who plans to study architecture in college….

One mentor, who worked in the real estate division at the Port of San Francisco, tapped Build SF students in 2006 to help with the remodel of Pier 14 along the Embarcadero, by creating 16 tile installations….

The student leader of the tile project was Justin Marks, who is now 26 and works as a junior designer at Hornberger + Worstell in San Francisco…And for the past few years, he’s helped mentor Build SF students.

“People always ask me how I got this great job, and it all started with people at Build SF being patient and teaching me, and I feel I should pass that on to other students growing up in the same neighborhoods,” Marks said….


Nixon Lee took all the engineering classes offered at Burton High and joined Build San Francisco Institute looking for more.

“One day I want to be an engineer,” he said, during a break in a lecture on environmental sustainability. At his mentorship with engineering firm Murphy, Burr and Curry Inc., he is helping calculate materials costs for the structural components of a building. . . . “They are helping make it possible for us to become future engineers.”

Teaching staff:

Fred Werner is a credentialed California high school science and architecture/engineering teacher, with over a dozen years of full-time teaching experience in a wide range of schools and non-traditional settings.  He has been teaching the sustainable design and architecture programs for the Architectural Foundation for three years.


Follow us on Facebook:

Check out our Youtube channel:

Build SF Projects:

Every year Build SF students undertake a design problem based on current events in San Francisco and around the world. Some project examples are listed below:

The Mars Metropolis Project

In 2014 Build SF students joined an international team of schools including schools in Australia and the United Kingdom to research and design a sustainable community for the planet Mars. Working with scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratories, the students are creating animations and videos explaining their solutions to the difficult problem of creating an extra terrestrial habitat. This is an ongoing project, with new schools contributing their solutions throughout the year. The 2014-2015 class of Build SF will also participate in a new round of discovery and design. To learn more about the Mars Metropolis Project Follow this link:

Mars Metropolis Project


Other Exemplary Projects Include:


The Tiles Project

In 2006, Build San Francisco instructor Casey Brennan and her students participated in the redesign of San Francisco’s Pier 14, by designing and creating sixteen ceramic tile installations for the pier. To learn more about this project download the tiles newsletter produced by the students.

The Hewlett Performance Space Project

Students in the 2008-09 Build San program conducted a survey of local performance spaces. Funded through a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Build SF students created video reports on two important San Francisco venues: The Ninth Street Media Center and the Brava Theatre. We have placed these videos online at YouTube

The Uptown Putt Project


uptown putt

Once again Build SF has been featured in a national publication – this time on the George Lucas Educational Foundation website. The learning potential of the AFSF Uptown Putt indoor golf course, with holes designed by students, attracted their attention and they have made it one of four focus areas of innovative education programs around the nation. Titled “A New Day for Learning 2” the site features Build SF curriculum, video interviews of staff, AFSF Board members, and mentors, and articles about the program. Visit the site here.


Participating Firms Include:

Anshen + Allen

Architectural Resources Group

Bullard’s Heating and Air

C&B Consulting Engineers

CCI Commercial Constructions and Improvements

Cahill Contractors

Carey and Co. Architecture

Farella Braun & Martell

Flack + Kurtz

Fog City Asbuilts

Ford Graphics

Forell/Elsesser Engineers Inc.

450 Architects

Gate Capital Properties



Guttman & Blaevoet

Hannum Associates

Hirsch-Bedner Associates

Holmes Culley

Hornberger + Worstell

KMD Architects

Lend Lease



Murphy Burr Curry Inc.

Page & Turnbull

Perkins + Will

Plant Construction

Pollack Architecure

The Port of San Francisco

Primus Infrastructure

RAPT Studio

Rollo and Ridley

RMW Architecture & Interiors

Santos & Urrutia

Severson & Werson

SMWM Architecture

Simpson Gumpertz & Heger

S.J. Amoroso Construction

Swinerton Builders


Timmons Design Engineers

Tom Eliot Fisch

Treadwell & Rollo


AFSF’s Build San Francisco Institute is part of the SFUSD’s Secondary School Redesign Initiative (SSRI). SSRI is funded by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other community organizations. The Build San Francisco Institute also receives support from the Every Child Can Learn Foundation, McGraw–Hill Construction, the San Francisco Foundation, the Marin Community Foundation, the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund, the California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, Autodesk, IBM, San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR), the Port of San Francisco, Hannum Associates, Tom Eliot Fisch, Hirsh Bedner Associates, Treadwell and Rollo, Swinerton Builders, S.J. Amoroso Construction Co., C & B Consulting, Page & Turnbull, Teknion, and Ford Graphics.


Non Discrimination Policy: San Francisco Unified School District. District programs, activities, and practices shall be free from unlawful discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying of any pupil based on the pupil’s actual race, color, ancestry, national origin, ethnic group identification, age, religion, marital or parental status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or gender expression; the perception of one or more of such characteristics; or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.  This policy applies to all acts related to school activity or school attendance occurring within a school under the jurisdiction of the superintendent of the school district (Education Code 234.1). 

2 comments on “Build San Francisco Institute

[…] for the Architectural Foundation of San Francisco, a nonprofit organization whose main program is Build SF. Build SF provides a classroom program as well as mentorships with professionals to San Francisco […]

[…] Pier 14 SF Project. To encourage educators to promote participation in real-life projects at schools, the San Francisco Institute has developed a great initiative for learners interested in architecture and design. Groups of students were encouraged to participate in a half-day program of designing tiles for Pier 14, the new San Francisco Port. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *