When we began homeschooling, it never crossed my mind that architecture would be a component of our study, and it certainly didn’t occur to me that we would find it to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of our education.
We were introduced to the idea of studying architecture four years ago by Kerri Forney, who many of this blog’s readers know as the purveyor of wonderful living books at the annual CMI conference. We had already started to read Virgil Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World, and Kerri suggested that his three small books on architecture, sculpture and painting would be a wonderful supplement to our studies. Virgil Hillyer was the Headmaster at Calvert School in Baltimore. A teacher at heart, he was the author of many child’s histories. He co-wrote the series on art with one of the science and art teachers at Calvert School, Edward Huey. They worked together for seven years on the series, bringing to a child’s attention the oft neglected works of fine art, sculpture and architecture.
After four years of observing the fruit of architecture study, I believe that it should be a part of every child’s education because it helps the child develop a fuller appreciation for all other subjects. When a child has studied architecture, he is unafraid of the Pythagorean theorem because he has seen it before in Egypt’s Great Pyramids and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris. In his U.S. History class, he can understand how a young John Quincy Adams could eavesdrop on fellow House members as they met in Statuary Hall because of the Hall’s elliptical ceiling. When he reads Howard Pyle’s King Arthur and His Knights, he knows that a portcullis is the huge latticework gate that is dropped across the gateway of a castle to bar intruders. He can visualize the Globe Theatre of Shakespeare’s day because he knows that Tudor architecture was popular during Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
After building a good foundation in architecture (pardon the pun), children take delight in pointing out architectural terms in the books that they read. They love to discover that their house has dentil molding, casement windows, a fanlight, or arches and keys above their windows. They begin to look for elements of architecture in the neighborhood and cities they visit. By including a study of architecture in our schools, we are creating well-rounded citizens. We are not only exposing our children to the standard “reading, writing and arithmetic,” but encouraging a child to become “a master of much knowledge besides.”
Consider this comment from Charlotte Mason’s Volume 6: Towards a Philosophy of Education:
In the great (and ungoverned) age of the Renaissance, the time when great things were done, great pictures painted, great buildings raised, great discoveries made, the same man was a painter, an architect, a goldsmith and a master of much knowledge besides; and all that he did he did well, all that he knew was part of his daily thought and enjoyment. Let us hear Vasari on Leonardo,––
“Possessed of a divine and marvellous intellect and being an excellent geometrician, he not only worked at sculpture . . . but also prepared many architectural plans and buildings . . . he made designs for mills and other engines to go by water; and, as painting was to be his profession . . . he studied drawing from life.”
Leonardo knew nothing about Art for Art’s sake, that shibboleth of yesterday, nor did our own Christopher Wren, also a great mathematician and master of much and various knowledge, to whom architecture was rather a by-the-way interest, and yet he built St. Paul’s. What an irreparable loss we had when that plan of his for a beautiful and spacious London was flung aside because it would cost too much to carry it out! Just so of our parsimony do we fling aside the minds of the children of our country, also capable of being wrought into pleasances of delight, structures of utility and beauty, at a pitifully trifling cost. It is well we should recognise that the business of education is with us all our lives, that we must always go on increasing our knowledge.
Let us re-read one particular sentence.
All that he knew was part of his daily thought and enjoyment.
How beautiful would it be to have children who daily meditate and take joy in the knowledge they are acquiring! Creating this sense of joy and passion for learning is exactly what we as parent-teachers aspire to do. A feast of living books on a variety of subjects give us the best opportunity of accomplishing just that.
A Suggested Method for Studying Architecture
Beginning with the pyramids of the ancient Egyptians, authors of A Child’s History of Art: Architecture, Virgil Hillyer and Edward Huey, bring to life the people and cultures that gave rise to the greatest civilizations on earth. We learn about ziggurats like the Tower of Babel, obelisks such as the Washington Monument, the Greek Parthenon, Alexander’s Lighthouse, and Roman arches and aqueducts. Children are introduced to a plumb line, a level and a carpenter’s square. They learn the difference between a “capitol” and a “capital.” Have you ever wondered what is the difference between a Doric, an Ionic, and a Corinthian column? Your children will be able to identify them out the car window once you read this book.
Suggestions for the Weekly Study of Architecture
- Each week, we read approximately half of one chapter. We are usually able to complete the reading in one day, sometimes two if there are many new terms to introduce (as was the case with cathedral architecture). There are 29 chapters, which translates into spending 12 to 18 months with this book. If this sounds like a long time, it is and should be. We have over 5,000 years of architecture to cover! Spending time with the people and places and buildings in this book ensures we appreciate them in their context and do not rush through what they have to teach us.
- After reading through the passage one time, the children narrate the reading. Since there is more than one child in our school, each child narrates in turn without repeating information previously shared. Occasionally, we narrate through drawing instead of verbal narration. An example of this may be drawing Gothic and Roman arches and comparing/contrasting the two.
- When the reading and narration are complete, we look at the black/white pictures in the book. However, the internet is a treasure trove of pictures and additional contextual information. For example, enter the search term obelisk, and one will see hundreds of wonderful examples. Or you could visit your local cemetery, where it is almost certain you will see an obelisk memorial. Time permitting, we use Google Earth to virtually visit Notre Dame in Paris or Il Duomo in Florence, Italy.
- Approximately every other week, we update the timeline on our wall or, for older children, their Book of Centuries. If we have studied a particularly famous building (e.g. White House) or period of architecture (e.g. Baroque), we may paste a picture of the building or an example of the time period on the timeline.
- Outside of the classroom, we visit local buildings that are examples of the architecture that we are studying. Resources for locating architectural elements in your city are as close as your internet search engine. Input search terms like famous landmarks, important buildings, or architecture in (your city/state), and you may find a surprising list of neo-classical or modern buildings within a short drive of your home. Websites such as http://www.ranker.com/, http://www.greatbuildings.com/, and http://www.favoritearchitecture.org/ provide lists of famous buildings and what period of architecture they reflect.
- As we plan trips, if there is an architectural landmark on the way, we make an effort to visit. Last year when we visited family in Nashville, we took a few hours to visit the Parthenon. This may be the closest we ever get to visiting Ancient Greece! As we drive around town, even around neighborhoods, we encourage the children to spot architectural elements. On one stretch of road leading from our home into downtown Lexington, Kentucky, we pass four different types of architecture: English Tudor, Gothic, Richardson Romanesque and Georgian Colonial. The kids have made a game of it now: “Mom! Gothic arch to the left! Georgian fanlight to the right!”
It is a great joy to introduce children to great architecture and its themes in literature, mathematics, science, history, music and art. Children who study architecture begin to observe architectural elements in picture study, in reading and in book illustrations. Even composer study takes on a new depth when a child relates the “ornamentation” of Baroque music that is also common to Baroque architecture. In time, the elements of architecture become part of [their] daily thought and enjoyment.
The image of the columns came from this website: http://www.hasdhawks.org.
©2013 by Jennifer Stec