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Bringing Design to Schools Across Oregon

At AFO, we are passionate about the future of the built environment in Oregon. The best way to ensure we have great places to live, work and play is to ensure that future generations are exposed to the importance of design and creative problem solving.

The Architects in Schools (AiS) program aims to do just that: introduce the youngest Oregonians to the power and possibilities of design with the end goal of creating lifelong learners and critical thinkers who have a voice in their community. This is AFO’s longest running program.

Administered by AFO since 2003, the program has grown from annually serving 800 students to currently serving more than 5,400 third through fifth grade students in the Portland metropolitan area, Central Oregon, Salem, Eugene and Southern Oregon.

Architects in Schools delivers arts programming, environmental understanding, awareness of cultural links to history, understanding responsibility to the natural environment, career awareness and communication skills – all through the principles and practices of architecture and design while addressing Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.

Student Spotlight

4th grade Creative Science School

“My favorite part was working with my classmates to build a community.”

How it Works

AFO recruits professionals from the building community (architects, contractors, engineers and more) and matches them with Oregon teachers in their geographic area. Together, they choose lessons from our curriculum guide and create a unique and engaging experience that introduces third through fifth grade students to the basic principles of design over a six-week residency.

AFO provides a training workshop, staff support, public exhibition of final projects and a copy of Architecture as a Basic Curriculum Builder which includes:

  • Simple drawing techniques that quickly improves students’ abilities and their confidence
  • A pictorial survey of architectural periods and styles that coincide with studies of NW Native Americans, Pioneers, Victorians and several distinct periods in the 20th century
  • Lessons for measuring and designing floor plans
  • Structured activities around questions, like: “What makes structures stand up?” “What will cities look like 25 years from now?” and “What is Green Building?”
  • and much more!


Participating Schools

Participating Design & Building Professionals

View the list here.

At the end of Architects in Schools classroom residencies, many schools participate in an exhibit of student work, showcasing the projects students completed through the program.

Due to COVID-19, we have adapted our exhibits to a virtual format so student work can be viewed and enjoyed from the comfort of your home. Visit the Architects in Schools Virtual Exhibit of student work!

Wishing you all great health and light throughout these difficult times.

Download “A Special Structure for a Special Client,” one of more than 25 lesson plans in the curriculum guide



See the work of our 2019-20 AiS students!

Design/Building Professional Application & Resources

AFO encourages participation by design and building professionals including architects, engineers, contractors, interior designers, city planners, architecture historians, architecture students and more. Design/building professionals volunteer around twenty hours total, twelve of those hours spent in the classroom over a six-week period and eight hours of planning time.

Participating architecture students assist the design/building professional in the classroom and work with the team to design, plan and present a residency.

  • Collaborate with the classroom teacher(s) to develop and teach a program that uses architecture and design to enhance the classroom curriculum (the AiS curriculum is not the only base to use for your classroom goals — work with the teachers to decide what is best). Before you begin your residency, each team will be asked to hand in a residency plan.
  • Be on time. Teachers keep very strict schedules, so a loss of 5 minutes can mean the difference between a successful classroom visit and frustration.
  • Please make every effort to keep to your scheduled visits. It is often quite difficult for schools to rearrange schedules once they have been set.
  • Your time is short with the students. Prep all materials agreed on with the teacher. Ask the teacher to make copies, pass out materials beforehand and have assignments for students who finish early.
  • Leave students in a frame of mind to return to classroom work. Teachers appreciate guests who do not leave them with restless or unruly students.
  • Try to call students by name. Ask the teacher to have them wear name tags for your visit.
  • Move about the classroom: don’t stay in one spot the entire lesson. Share your enthusiasm about design and make it personal.
  • Communicate all problems, questions and concerns with AFO staff immediately and read all email communication sent about AiS carefully.

2019-20 Program Information

Applications for the 2020-21 season will go live in August. Sign up for the newsletter to stay updated

Teacher Application & Resources

Architects in Schools is offered free-of-charge to third through fifth grade classrooms in the Portland metropolitan area, Salem, Eugene, Bend, Medford and Ashland. Priority is given to schools with no more than two classes participating in the same grade level per school per academic year. If more than two teachers need to participate together, please contact AFO staff prior to applying.

  • Partner and collaborate with the design/building professional(s) to develop and teach a program that enhances your classroom curriculum. Before you begin your residency, each team will be asked to hand in a residency plan.
  • Check your team’s proposed residency schedule for any conflicts with other school events (half days, assemblies, etc.) and notify the design/building professional(s) of any conflicts well in advance.
  • You are responsible for facilitating and assisting with planned activities during the residency sessions and for conducting follow-up and preparatory activities related to the project between the scheduled visits.
  • The design/building professional(s) will also rely on you to be in charge of classroom discipline and to help with classroom management issues such as grouping students for cooperative work and maintaining a good classroom atmosphere. You must be in the classroom with the design/building professional at all times. The teacher listed on the application must be the teacher present for residency sessions (no substitutes) unless prior approval has been given by AFO staff and the design/building professional.
  • Please introduce your resident design/building professional(s) to your supervisor and/or principal and alert the front desk and main office on the days of their visits.
  • Have students wear name tags during the design/building professional’s visits.
  • Communicate all problems, questions and concerns with AFO staff immediately and read all email communication sent about AiS carefully.

2019-20 Program Information

Applications for the 2020-21 season will go live in August. Sign up for the AiS newsletter to stay updated

Student & Parent Resources

Third through fifth grade students participating in Architects in Schools gain an understanding of the designed and built environment through lessons taught by architects, engineers, contractors and other design professionals. The ‘hands-on’ approach of the program enhances learning in multiple subjects and helps students gain a better sense of how school relates to the ‘real world.’ AFO’s goal is to use design and the design process as a tool to help students develop skills that improve team work, observations and creative problem solving, while connecting students back to the communities in which they live, learn and play. Arquitectos en las Escuelas – Información de los Padres

At-home Lessons and Activities on Architecture, Engineering and Design:

Upload pictures of your creations and tag @architecture_or on Instagram or @aforegon on Facebook for a chance to be featured on our profile!

AiS Design Challenge 2020 – Put your design skills to the test, all from the comfort of your own home! In a time of uncertainty and hardship, this is a fun opportunity to inspire each other with design and creativity!

AiS Curriculum Guide Lesson: What Do You See Through Your Telescope? – All you need is a piece of paper to begin “seeing” design that surrounds you!

AiS Curriculum Guide Lesson: So You Thought Designing a Mask Would Be Simple! – Practice communication and exercise your design skills while learning the relationship between a client, architect and builder.

AiS Curriculum Guide Lesson: A Special Structure for a Special Client – How would you design and build a home that makes its own energy and faces south for a polar bear who likes to fish? How about a beaver that collects rain water to take care of its flowers in the garden? Choose a client and design and build a house to fit their needs.

AiS Curriculum Guide Lesson: What Will Cities Look Like 25 Years From Now? – It’s 25 years from now, and there are five times as many people in the world as there are now. What kind of city would you design to meet the needs of these people?

AiS Curriculum Guide Lesson: What Makes Structures Stand Up? – Learn the basic concepts of load and tension in structures by building simple shapes out of paper.

AiS Curriculum Guide Lesson: Building a Geodesic Dome – From small handheld domes, to large six-foot domes, learn how to build this unique and strong structure.

Architecture at Home – AIA New York offers a series of family-friendly design activities and challenges.

Architecture From Home – Architecture firm, Foster + Partners, created several at-home architecture drawing, making, thinking, and playing activities to keep kids entertained.

archKIDecture – Discover several lessons that explain math, science and visual arts concepts through the medium of architecture.

Become a Landscape Architect – The American Society of Landscape Architects Activity Books are for anyone interested in landscape architecture, planning, and engineering, and for those who like to draw, doodle, and be inspired.

CUBE, Center for Understanding the Built Environment Lessons and activities on intentional design, community outreach, and making a difference in our built environment.

Deep Space Sparkle: Skyscraper Line Drawing – A fun and simple drawing activity for all ages.

Design Together – A collection of design activities, resources and challenges for all ages and classrooms, offered by Design Museum Everywhere.

Discover Design – Chicago Architecture Center’s online platform to develop design skills and complete a wide variety of design challenges.

Discovery Education: Reaching New HeightsIf you are fascinated by skyscrapers, this is the lesson for you!

Dream House Project Math Workbook – Design and build a model of your dream house while practicing multiplication, area and perimeter solving skills.

Energy Hog: Scavenger Hunt – How energy efficient is your home? Find out through this scavenger hunt.

Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Classroom – A free online learning tool developed by the FLW Foundation, offering hands-on lessons that encourage students to think critically and creatively.

Great Buildings Collection –  Explore this database of selected classics of world architecture and designers.

Illustrated Architecture Dictionary – Exactly what it sounds like, a database of architectural vocabulary accompanied with pictures.

PBS: Building Big – Dive into several lessons on large structures such as bridges, domes, skyscrapers and more.

Portland Architecture Bingo – A game created by the Architectural Heritage Center to help you learn about and identify different architectural elements.

Portland Architecture Crossword Puzzle – How well do you know the architecture and built environment in Portland?

Scholastic: Engineering a Bridge – After learning about different types of bridges, build your own and then test how much weight it can hold before breaking.

Smithsonian Science Education Center: Tami’s Tower: Let’s Think About Engineering Game – Help Tami, the hungry golden lion tamarin, reach the fruit in the tree by building a tower.

Teach Engineering: Hands-on Activity: Design a Net-Zero Energy Classroom – Learn about the impact buildings have on the environment, how to eliminate that impact, and why it all matters.

Architects in Schools Summer Camp

See the work of our 2019-20 AiS participants!

Contributors & Collaborators

Bloomfield Family Foundation | The Carpenter Foundation | ESCO Foundation | Herbert A. Templeton Foundation | Juan Young Trust | MDU Resources Foundation | Oregon Arts Commission | The Oregon Community Foundation | Regional Arts & Culture Council | Women’s Architectural League | AFO Corporate & Individual Members

In-Kind donors:
AIA Southern Oregon | AIA Southwest Oregon | Bend-LaPine School District | Frank Lloyd Wright Gordon House | KPFF Consulting Engineers | Kelley Imaging | OMSI | PSU School of Architecture | Salem Keizer Education Foundation | Sandy Library | UO College of Design


Kim Ruthardt Knowles
Associate Director, Architects in Schools

Candice Agahan
Education Programming Associate