Architecture Design Assignments For Students

Image via flickr.

If you imagined you'd spend the first day of architecture school designing your dream home or imagining a skyscraper, you would be way off base. Depending on what school you attend, the flavor of your initial project will vary, but all will be designed to help develop your design-thinking and -making abilities.

The following are 23 common design prompts architecture school professors have given young minds entering the field of architecture, all of which have been recounted to me by current day architects. Some are brief while others, more lengthy prompts, but all are impactful for their ability to make one think and explore!

1. Paper and Sticks and more

Everyone is given a single sheet of a heavy stock paper, approximately 18 inches by 24 inches, and some balsa wood sticks with instructions to create curves using only those two items. After creating the paper form, everyone is asked to draw the curves as well as the negative space formed by the creations. This is the warm up exercise to get ready for the next critical step. “Go outside and find yourselves a nice twig (not too big) lying about on campus.” Once in possession of the twig, rotate it and draw the space formed as the twig rotates (not the twig itself but the actual volume of space formed). The next step is to make it three dimensional while limiting your model to two sources using no glue. 

2. The Conversion

The prompt was to take a simple object and make it complex. Reportedly, one young student turned in a crumpled up piece of paper for the assignment!

3. Regenerate Your Thoughts

Design a "regeneration unit," another term for a bathroom. The exercise is intended to get students to rethink a common place.

4. Translating Anatomy

Draw five independent translations of your hand.

5. The Onion

We were called over to a large work table where the professor placed a sweet onion. The professor said something to the effect of, “I’ll be back in 20 minutes and we will discuss the onion and how it can teach you about architecture.” We stood around looking at it until someone cut it in half, giving us more to think about as we now explored the interior layers as well as the exterior. The professor was very excited when he returned to see we had cut the onion in half.

6. The Circle

Students are instructed to get into small groups of 5-6 and draw a series of concentric, freehand circles on a large piece of paper (6’ square). The first student begins by drawing a circle in graphite, about the size of a fist. The next student is meant to correct the imperfections of the first circle by drawing one around it, also in graphite (1” bar of soft graphite). This continues until the circle is about 4-5 ft. in diameter. 

The exercise is meant to prompt discussion on the idea of circle. The project is simple in that everyone knows a circle, but most haven’t spent much time thinking about them. In just a few days, questions about the role of media, tools, drawing, ideas, geometry, history, and context arose and were returned to throughout the year.

7. The Walk & Sketch

With a 9 x 12 sketchbook and an HB pencil, we were instructed to walk for an hour through the campus and neighboring town. The catch was we needed to do our sketches while walking, never letting the pencil leave the paper. As we returned, we pinned up our sketches and had a lengthy discussion about each sketch and the patterns discovered in them.

8. The Tower

Instructions were to take 10 strips of paper, approximately 1” x 18” each, and a box of paper clips and construct a tower. No other items could be used.

9. The Cube Manipulation

This prompt is for a complex, multiple-day project involving the manipulation of two 4”x4” cubes to create one object. The assignment involves a two dimension (cruciform) pattern which is to be folded. The model was required to be watertight (no openings) and made of only white cardstock. 

10. The Differential

We were asked to create a model of an object whose “differential was the resultant of a tetrahedron.”

11. Interpreting Art

The professor walked in with a box full of reproduced prints by great masters. Students selected a piece of art and made a square representation of it. You could use any medium you desired but it needed to be six by six. Upon completion, we were instructed to then develop a three dimensional representation of the 2-D square representation, in the form of a cube.

12. One Into Many

The assignment was to create a single unit and convert it into many that would then become a new unit.

13. The Key Drop

Upon entering the studio, the professor requested we empty our pockets onto the desk. One common item each person had was a set of keys. We were instructed to pick up our keys, raise them above our head, and release them. Each set of keys dropped creating their own unique patterns. We then had to explore the patterns created looking at the spaces between the cuts, shoulders and bows through sketching.

14. The Eraser Project

Using a pink eraser and sandpaper, create something architectural.

15. Copper Art

We were handed a tangled hunk of heavy gage copper wiring and asked to create something beautiful. No other materials would be permitted and you would have four hours to complete the task. You were limited to bending, cutting and twisting only.

16. Scoring & Cutting

We were given a sheet of paper and instructed to create depth by scoring, cutting or folding.

17. The Transformed Sketch

We were asked to make 10 sketches a day of everyday objects for about a week. Then, we were instructed to choose one sketch, abstract it, and create a 3D model of the abstraction. One student made an abstract 20oz coke bottle out of cardboard.

18. Conceptual Photography

We were assigned to read Louis Kahn’s “Between Silence and Light,” and then go out and try to photographically represent concepts within the book such as Order, Joy, Touch, Site, and Wonder.

19. The Non Box

We were given three days to respond to the question "when is a box not a box."

20. Music Meets Computers

The professor walks into the studio, presenting a box of computer cards and a bundle of piano wire and tells us to make something architectural.

21. Not Exactly Technical

Find an object and create a technical drawing of said object. One student chose an x-acto knife and another drew their hand.

22. Add-Drop

We were all given an add/drop form which was used at the university to drop or add classes from your schedule for the semester. The professor instructed us to build a model both with the form and in response to it. We could not use any glue or tape. Joinery is key here in creating something worthy of discussion. If we were unable to complete the task we were asked to fill out the form and leave!

23. Brick Support

The assignment was to create a sloped platform with a flat top surface using the following three elements: chipboard, toothpicks and glue. The platform is required to support a brick.

Aric Gitomer Architect, LLC is a small, boutique architectural practice giving one on one attention to each individual client. Aric Gitomer, AIA principal has been creating solutions for over 30 years. He specializes in home renovation, new construction, additions and alterations.

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The assigments are distributed to students during the sessions listed in the table. The final review of Project 2 takes place during Session 39.

2Exercise 1: Drawing the Body (PDF)
5Project 1, Public Bathroom, Assignment 1: Analysis (PDF)
8Project 1, Public Bathroom, Assignment 2: Concept Development (PDF)
11Project 1, Public Bathroom, Assignment 3: Section Drawings (PDF)
14Project 1, Public Bathroom, Assignment 4: Axon (PDF)
18Project 1, Public Bathroom, Assignment 5: Design Synthesis (PDF)
19Exercise 2: Sketches and Constructed Perspectives (PDF)
25Project 2, Quantanomo Bay, Assignment 1: Analysis (PDF)
30Project 2, Quantanomo Bay, Assignment 2: Concept Development (PDF)
39Project 2, Quantanomo Bay, Assignment 3: Final Requirements (PDF)
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