March 01, 2019

Mini Musings - Box City

by the 4th Grade Teacher Team

A group of fourth graders huddles together around a large set of architectural plans, investigating the details of a future building. As students point out different elements and ask questions, a volunteer architect explains the process that takes ideas and drawings to brick and mortar. This experience is a part of the Box City Program, a national initiative that brings architecture into classrooms across the country. Both McGillis fourth grade classrooms are participating; they will join students from other schools across the Salt Lake Valley to create a scaled city from recycled materials. 

After six lessons that cover a broad spectrum of skills required for architecture— scale, building typology, building materials, rhythm, building design, city planning, students will break into small groups to plan their own 30” x 30” city block. Each group will be responsible for building two set structures, such as a bank or school, and two choice structures. They will need to plan the roadways, and greenspaces, keeping in mind how their block relates to adjacent blocks. These blocks will be joined to those of their classmates, and eventually all of the participating Salt Lake area schools.

Guided by professional and university student architects, students will learn more than just building design. Other benefits to the Box City program include an emphasis on teamwork, cooperation, and problem solving. To plan and complete the blocks of the model city, students must work with a small group of classmates. Within this small group, students design buildings and surrounding spaces that meet the needs of the “client”, while also addressing personal aesthetics, sustainability, and land usage. Within the collaborative process, students learn effective communication skills and strategies for valuing individual voices. Teachers provide support and feedback in both design and strategies for effectively working with peers.

Box City is one example of how fourth grade is nurturing the value of Limud L’shma—learning for the sake of learning. Drawing on the skills and enthusiasm fostered in class, students have independently created blueprint designs for real and imagined spaces. It is our hope that students will develop a greater awareness of the built spaces around them and ask questions about what architectural design choices can be made for a sustainable future.