The Build San Francisco Studio

In 2010 The Architectural Foundation of San Francisco partnered with San Francisco’s Independence High School to create the Build San Francisco Studio, a morning program for students interested in design. Meeting three mornings each week, students on independent study come to the AFSF Studio space at 901 Mission Street and take courses in design and environmental studies.  Working with the latest Autodesk software these students apply design principles to complex problems in the modern world. A highlight of the program is a partnership with the American School of London, in which students from the two programs share their ideas and designs. A description of the first year’s partnership is below.

Build San Francisco — American School of London Intercontinental Design Challenge: A Model for 21st Century Learning

Project Based Learning is always a challenging approach to classroom learning. Add a partner school and you double the challenges. When the partner school is over 5000 miles away you begin to multiply the challenges until it begins to look impossible. And yet, in the 21st Century world outside of the classroom, design firms now face these challenges every day as they complete major projects with partners around the world who contribute their respective talents to the project. They accomplish these tasks by using a range of Internet tools and advanced design software that makes it possible for the participants to collaborate in real time. While many of these tools are available to schools, few students have the opportunity to test them in real projects.

In 2010 the Architectural Foundation of San Francisco agreed to collaborate with the American School of London by arranging for high school students in the AFSF architecture program Build San Francisco to work together on a design challenge with the students in the architecture classes at ASL. The Autodesk Corporation agreed to help sponsor this effort. An agreement was reached to try an initial test project in the spring of 2011 to see if such collaborations were even feasible. Given the eight hour time difference between London and San Francisco some sort of asynchronous approach would be required. In March 2011, planning began using email and a series of Skype internet calls at times convenient to both locations. Through these media the two teachers, Julia Jones at Build SF Studio and Axel Forrester at ASL became acquainted with each other and began exchanging ideas for managing the project. Student abilities, hardware and software capabilities, curriculum issues, teaching styles, school calendars, assessment processes, and much more required discussion before the actual design challenge could be created. A six to eight week time frame in April and early May was agreed upon.

While these issues were being worked out the teachers decided that it would be important to have the students get acquainted with their respective cities. Working from an idea of Axel’s, students in both cities completed “Architectural Treasure Hunts” in which they sought out and photographed the major architectural landmarks in each city. The images were worked into PowerPoint presentations that included photos of the students involved. These were then exchanged between the student teams. When some files proved too large to email, Julia suggested using Google Docs to share the information. This proved highly successful and the students began exchanging information through this medium, in addition to emailing each other with more information about themselves.

At the same time, Julia and Axel began to make decisions on the actual project the students would create.

Because the schools could only budget 6-8 weeks for this project, the teachers agreed that this initial project would involve sharing of ideas rather than actual collaboration on a single project. A design program was created around this concept. To inspire the students to think beyond conventional limits, they were challenged to design a non-linear post modern structure. The project involved major research into post modern design ideas, and searching for inspirational examples. The students generated ideas, shared them with their intercontinental partners and proceeded to create their designs, from hand drawn sketches to finished architectural designs in their respective software, complete with floor plans, 3D models and photo realistic renderings of interiors and exteriors. The results were spectacular. These final products were shared on Google docs and students exchanged evaluations and comments.

A final evaluation of the overall success of the program was completed through the use of a Survey Monkey page created by Julia. Here are some of the student comments:

I think the most interesting part of the project was collaborating with the San Francisco students, since they had a very different view than we did about architecture, and it was interesting
The most interesting part of the project definitely was seeing the buildings come together. From inspiration to Revit models
I think that seeing the buildings in San Francisco from these first hand photos was very interesting, especially since I have never been there. The collaboration also added some interesting aspects to the project
It helped mainly because I learned about London architecture from people that actually live there and San Francisco architecture from a foreigner’s point of view. I realized that it’s harder to cherish my own city’s architecture since I always lived there and I’m accustomed to it. But if I lived in or in this case learned about other places, the significant monuments in San Francisco easily stand out.

The positive responses of the students, the quality of the work, the ability of the teachers to solve problems and reach agreement, the discovery of the proper tools for international collaboration were strong indicators of success. Discussions are already underway for a more in-depth project to be carried out during school year 2011-12. During the summer, ASL is revamping its design lab hardware to accommodate Revit Architecture software, which will open up new avenues of collaboration. But to appreciate the success you have to understand that in about eight weeks time, teachers created a model for international collaboration, while students investigated the architecture of their city, became expert at high level design software, researched post modern architectural styles, wrote essays, completed PowerPoints, and designed their own unique post modern structures with the software they had just learned while sharing it all with partners in another country in real time. That’s real 21st Century Learning. As this project wraps up, the teachers and staff at the respective programs are archiving the lessons and student examples from this remarkable project. We hope to share them with other schools and organizations in the future.

Design Challenge

Build SF / ASL Student Design Challenge

The urban environment has often been described as a world of squares populated by boxes. This is particularly true in American cities like San Francisco, most of which were developed in the nineteenth century by planners who laid out a series of “efficient” grids for builders to build upon. Builders obliged by building square and rectangular buildings that fit neatly into the grids. This is not always the case in Europe, where cities have developed over hundreds of years and streets more frequently meander through the terrain, but looking closely at an aerial view of London will show that despite the curvilinear nature of many streets, when it comes to architecture, the rectangle is much in evidence.

One reason for the use of the rectangle or square footprint for a building is the technology involved in building a structure, whether a single story family dwelling or a multi story office building. For reasons of strength and efficiency rectangular buildings are safe and easy to build and make good use of space. Other shapes provide challenges in creating support for walls, floors and roofs, especially those constructed of wooden studs and joists, or of steel girders and beams. Despite this tendency to use right angles for construction, every city has notable exceptions. Buildings with other geometric footprints – circular, trapezoidal, octagonal and more – exist in every city. Some of these buildings are highly successful architecture – others are simply oddities. Famous architects in the 20th and 21st centuries have made attempts to abandon the basic square. Architects such as Santiago Calitrava or Frank Gehry have done remarkable things with more organic shapes. Others are seeking ways to use other regular polygons beyond the square as a starting point for their buildings. This trend seems to be increasing as new building materials replace standard wood or steel construction.

The Challenge:

In order to join the growing number of architects seeking a new look to design, you are asked to create a sustainable multi-story structure, using a basic footprint other than a square or a rectangle. In order to complete this challenge you or your partners must follow these steps:

Identify a need for the building – commercial, artistic, multi family etc.
Create a sketch of a multistory structure (more than two stories tall) that meets this need
Choose a basic shape for the building that addresses the need. The base can be linear or non linear, but it cannot be square or rectangular.
Write a 500 word description of your building – its purpose and how your design meets this purpose. Describe the “green” features that make it sustainable.
Render your idea in either Autodesk Revit Software or Sketchup

What follows are some examples from the project: Click on the links to view the PowerPoint presentations.

PowerPoint– Clayton Sasaki: ASL

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PowerPoint – Yasmeen Williams: Build SF
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PowerPoint – Sky Swanson: ASL
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Three Views of a Revit Design — Omar Rahmaoui: Build SF


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