Imagine you’re 8, 10 or even 15 years old and you’re being asked to describe your dream house. Not just describe it, but also sketch, map out and build a model of it. Would it look like your house?
For a group of students who attended the 2013 Architects in the Making (AIM) summer camp at the University of Miami, this was one of their projects — along with designing sneakers, building structures out of plastic straws and creating animals out of recycled materials.
AIM summer camp is a two-week program that happens once a year. Children ages 8-15 attend from all over Miami-Dade County for $100, director Rick Ruiz said. Now in its eighth year, AIM has expanded by bringing in better materials, field trips and programs such as the Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin Program, which teaches students to research, design and construct their own models for environmental sites.
The camp is developed, run and managed by the Miami Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which has more than 600 members.
Every morning, about 90 kids make their way into the the lecture hall at the University of Miami’s School of Architecture for a brief presentation before splitting up into studios to work on their projects.
Doug Patt, creator of the YouTube series and website “ How to Architect,” explained how to sketch last week via Skype.
“Kids think it’s complicated,” Ruiz said. “But he simplifies the way sketching is done.”
The university donates the space, including School of Architecture studios, where campers learn about sustainability and green architecture, historic preservation and the principles of design.
Architecture is everywhere, camp counselor Pilar Alva said. Kids are divided into three studios: beginning, intermediate and advanced.
In the advanced studio, campers learn about incorporating sustainable practices into their projects, Alva said. Some kids built models with plants that use rainwater to grow and survive.
Matthew Vasquez, 10, came up with his own solar-panel bookbag with outlets inside.
“When you’re at school and your laptop is out of battery power, you can charge it,” he said.
Before kids get to the advanced studio, they learn about the concept of scale and how architects draw.
Alain Bartroli, a camp counselor, works primarily with campers in the intermediate studio.
“We start with a simple floorplan, give them dimensions in real size, and they scale it down,” Bartroli said.
Participants are divided by skill level, not age. In the beginning studio, campers build cities, buildings, furniture and even animals, mostly out of recycled materials.
Andres Ramos, 9, said his mom decided to enroll him in the camp when she noticed how much he liked to draw. His favorite activity was when they built skyscrapers out of straws, which introduced them to the concept of weight distribution.
Counselor Monica Vega said that AIA was a nice introduction to architecture. “It helps them explore different things they didn’t know about themselves,” she said.
The program’s success is partially due to how much freedom the kids have to design what they want.
“This doesn’t really scare the creativity,” camp counselor Rudolph Hernandez said. “It’s a very good mentorship program. It keeps them safe.”
Hernandez has been a counselor for three years and said he enjoys the field trips, including one to the Frank Gehry-designed New World Symphony Hall in Miami Beach last year.
This year, they went to the Biscayne Nature Center on Key Biscayne and learned about sustainability. The two-week camp typically includes two days of field trips, although their trip to the Venetian Pool was rained out, leaving them with eight days of studio time. On the last day, counselors laid their projects out for gallery night, followed by an awards ceremony.
Rick Ruiz, AIM director, said the camp is meant to introduce kids to architecture, design and art in general.
“We wanted to give back to the community and nurture those kids who may not have the opportunity to know what architecture is about,” Ruiz said. With the right tools, “any kid can make it happen.”
Andres, who enjoyed the slideshow presentations in the morning, had the opportunity to draw a lot. “I don’t know that I want to be an architect, but I do want to be someone who designs something,” he said.