Cotsen Library program nurtures young architects

by Danielle Scruggs
The Cotsen Children's Library was filled with the sounds of crashing bricks, falling mortar and crumbling archways, but the noise had nothing to do with the construction around campus.

Eighteen local elementary school students were taking part in the library's "Toy Architecture" course on the history, basic principles and terminology of architecture, which featured many hands-on activities designed to let the children experience the science of building.

The children, ages 9 through 11, transformed wooden blocks and red clay into an archway and used materials such as Lego bricks, Lincoln Logs, toothpicks, marshmallows and Popsicle sticks for projects ranging from birdhouses to commercial building models. To learn how to develop floor plans, the students cut open green peppers and used the cross sections as models. They also used their bodies in a series of exercises to imitate various structural elements, such as flying buttresses, archways, tunnels and cantilevers.

Daniel Blazejewski, 11, an aspiring engineer, enjoyed the workshop. "I'm really good at building things. It's what I like to do, and I'm around people that like it as well," he said. "The best part is the free time, because we get to build stuff."

The Aug. 3-5 workshop also included an architectural tour of the University campus led by James Bradberry, the architect who designed the Cotsen Library gallery, as well as a final project in which the students created a town filled with various types of buildings.

Princeton student Lauren Siciliano, who has worked as a summer outreach coordinator at Cotsen for two years, was proud of the children's hard work. "The kids definitely seem to be picking it up quickly," said Siciliano, a member of the class of 2005. "It's always fun to see what they have learned in an earlier workshop and how they apply it."

Ayo Olagbegi, 9, said she liked "exploring the different types of buildings" on campus. Cason Crane, 11, also enjoyed the architectural tour and said another highlight was working with his 9-year-old brother, David, to make a building using Popsicle sticks and glue.

"We just got back from a trip to Australia, so we designed ours to look like the Sydney Opera House," Cason said.

In addition to Siciliano, the course was led by Bonnie Bernstein, Cotsen's education and outreach coordinator; Eric Johnson, a curator at the library; and Cory Alperstein, a 1978 Princeton alumna who assists with outreach programs at Cotsen.

Alperstein noted that the summer renovations on campus gave the children another view of architecture in action. "We're actually in the middle of a construction site outside, which also makes it fun," she said.

 

children demonstrate tensionLocal youngsters examined principles of architecture by using their bodies during the "Toy Architecture" course at the Cotsen Children's Library. In one exercise, students learned how tension is used in construction by locking their hands and leaning backward. Pictured are, from left, Kayinsola Olateru with Jesse Chen (front) and Princeton student Lauren Siciliano with Ayo Olagbegi (back).

photo: Denise Applewhite

 

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