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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, Salem, Eugene and Central, Southern, Eastern and Coastal Oregon. Learn more about the history of AiS.

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

Check out the amazing projects created by our 2022-23 Architects in Schools Student Designers!

In this interactive Virtual Exhibit, you will also find an online Maker Space and architecture focused read-aloud books. Start exploring below!

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

See the work of our 2022-23 AiS Student Designers!

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, engineering 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 and engineering students assist the design/building professional and work with the team to design, plan and present a residency.

  • Collaborate with your partner teacher to develop and teach a program that uses architecture and design to enhance the classroom curriculum. Before you begin your residency, each team will be asked to submit a residency plan.
  • Be on time. Teachers keep very strict schedules, so a loss of 5 minutes can mean the difference between a successful session and frustration.
  • Please make every effort to keep to your scheduled sessions. It is often quite difficult for schools to rearrange schedules once they have been set – and impossible during distance learning.
  • Your time is short with the students. Prep all materials agreed on with the teacher. Ask the teacher to make copies or disperse materials digitally before your session.
  • If you are a design/building professional and have an architecture or engineering student assisting you, make sure to offer them support, and connect with them outside of the residency itself when possible.
  • Communicate all problems, questions and concerns with AFO staff immediately and read all email communication sent about AiS carefully.

Tips for Design & Building Professionals

  • Try to call students by name if you are able to interact with them – even if it’s virtually.
  • If you are doing in-person sessions, move about the classroom: don’t stay in one spot the entire lesson. Share your enthusiasm about design and make it personal.
  • Try out any activity you plan to do with the class by yourself first to be sure about materials needed, time required to complete activity (multiply by two or three times your speed), feasibility for the age group, etc.
  • Plan activities that allow all students to be actively engaged during your entire session. If you can, vary sitting and moving or individual and group activities to hold the students’ interest.
  • Keep your instructions simple and clear. Many children will forget a long series of verbal instructions. Try to give them one thing to concentrate on at a time and build incrementally.
  • With the teacher, agree on a method for getting the whole class’ attention. Many teachers have a method for doing this.
  • Before you begin sessions, discuss with the teacher if there any children with special emotional, physical or language needs, limitations or difficulties. What level of participation is expected of them?

Teacher Application & Resources

Architects in Schools is offered free-of-charge to third through fifth grade classrooms in the Portland metropolitan area, Salem, Eugene and Central, Southern, Eastern and Coastal Oregon. While AiS is designed primarily for 3rd-5th grades, it has been successful in younger grades and is also available to middle school classes. Please contact Architects in Schools Director, Kim Knowles, for more information.

  • Partner and collaborate with your partner design/building professional 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 and notify the design/building professional 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 sessions.
  • You must be in the physical or virtual classroom with the design/building professional at all times. The teacher listed on the application must be the teacher present for sessions (no substitutes) unless prior approval has been given by AFO staff and the design/building professional.
  • Remember that your design/building professional partner is not a trained teacher. They are coming to share their expertise and want to work with your students. Since you are the one thoroughly trained to work with youth, they will look to you for guidance and need you to be in charge of student management.
  • If you are doing in-person sessions, please introduce your partner design/building professional to your supervisor and/or principal and alert the front desk and main office on the days of their visits.
  • If you are doing in-person sessions, have students wear name tags during the design/building professional’s visits.
  • Please make every effort to keep to your schedule with your partner professional and have students prepared for sessions scheduled with them.
  • Communicate all problems, questions and concerns with AFO staff immediately and read all email communication sent about AiS carefully.

Tips for Teachers

  • Integrate activities in between AiS sessions that either reinforce concepts or help introduce concepts for the next session. You may need to plan extra time in between sessions for final project work as well.
  • Help with classroom management such as grouping students for cooperative work and maintaining a good classroom atmosphere.
  • Review all major in-person or virtual classroom rules and procedures with the design/building professional during the planning meeting. Discuss your teaching and disciplinary style and agree on behavior standards.
  • Discuss a method for getting the whole class’ attention with your partner design/building professional.
  • Make sure to communicate with your design/building professional about any children with special emotional, physical or language needs, limitations or difficulties. What level of participation is expected of them?

Access the AiS Participant Portal

The 2023-24 teacher application is closed. Sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on future opportunities

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

Continue exploring architecture, engineering, construction, 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 I See Through My 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.

A Kids Book About Construction – Written by Andrew Colas of Colas Construction, explore the world of Construction, an incredible thing that shapes the world around us.

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.

ASLA Activity Books – 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.

ASLA Tools for PreK-12 Teachers – Introduce landscape architecture to students. Classroom teachers, afterschool leaders, homeschool educator, families, and design professionals can access a host of sessions that build on interdisciplinary curricula focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM).

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.

Girls Who Build: How-To Videos – Learn how to build a wooden doormat, make your own bee house, or build a shelf out of salvaged materials with girls from Girls Build.

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: The Elmer’s Teachers Club – Interactive and inspiring STEAM based hands-on lessons for grades K–6.

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.

See the work of our 2022-23 AiS Student Designers

Virtual Summer Camp registration is open! Join us June 24-28

Contributors & Collaborators

Autodesk | BRIC Architecture | Carleton Hart Architecture | Geffen Mesher | Juan Young Trust | KPFF Consulting Engineers | Lease Crutcher Lewis | Mackenzie | Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation | Mayer/Reed | MDU Resources Foundation | MJ Murdock Charitable Trust | Opsis Architecture | Oregon Arts Commission | Oregon Cultural Trust | Skanska | Soderstrom Architects | ZGF Architects | AFO Corporate & Individual Members

In-Kind donors:
AIA Oregon | DLR Group | The Gordon House | Kelley Connect | Oregon Museum of Science and Industry | Portland Community College | PAE Engineers | Tower Theatre Foundation | UO College of Design | many Design & Building Professionals and their firms throughout Oregon

Sponsor the Architects in Schools program


Kim Ruthardt Knowles
Associate Director, Architects in Schools

Candice Agahan
Education Program Manager

Sam Majors
Education Outreach Associate