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posted: 11/18/2013 1:13 PM

Lisle math students find inspiration in Frank Lloyd Wright

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  • Renee Jeng, 10, a fifth-grader at Schiesher Elementary School in Lisle, works on designing a house as inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright during the Build it Wright project.

    Renee Jeng, 10, a fifth-grader at Schiesher Elementary School in Lisle, works on designing a house as inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright during the Build it Wright project.
    Courtesy of Phyllis Sutton


Creativity flows in Patricia Hurt's academically talented math class at Schiesher School in Lisle.

The room buzzes as fifth-grade students mount heavy paper walls upon desk-sized grid paper to replicate the house each designed following their study of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The class is participating in the "Build it Wright" program, directed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. Hurt applied for a grant for the program to the Lisle Education Foundation, which used a financial gift from D.L. Bowman Ltd., a foundation business partner.

"This is a fantastic experience for our students," Hurt said. "We will have a reception for their parents on Dec. 10 to showcase their final projects."

The 10-week program integrates architecture and design with lessons on building materials and functions. Students work individually to design their own unique floor plan and construct a 3-D model to scale.

"The goal is to enable students to discuss architectural detail and design, observe and evaluate their built environment, and design and build models," said Brook Hutchinson, education and program assistant of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. "Throughout this project, the work of Frank Lloyd Wright is used as reference and inspiration in solving design problems."

The trust oversees four schools each semester in the model-making program and offers roughly 50 single session programs at schools and libraries. The program incorporates math, reading, language arts, design and architecture, Hutchinson said.

Wright was a creative 20th century architect known for his unique style featuring uncluttered, strong horizontal lines. His use of natural materials anchored each design to its location and led way to Wright's distinctive Prairie Style.

Each of the 23 students in Hurt's class was given a packet to study different kinds of roofs, windows and exterior wall treatments. The group walked around the neighborhood and sketched different possibilities they might use in their designs.

On a field trip to Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House on the campus of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, the focus was on Wright's singular architecture.

James Haros, 10, thought the Robie House had a "really cool design." A.J. Takahashi, 11, found the house's indirect lighting interesting and effective.

How Wright used the space within the house caught the attention of Amanda Duban, 10. She liked the use of low and then high ceilings to give the feeling of going into a spacious area.

Based on her visit to the Robie House, Callie Walsh, 11, hid her design's front door as Wright often did, and used a cantilever roof line over the door to protect visitors from the elements. Her open floor plan included two levels and a library. The use of tall thin ribbon windows and a carpet uniquely designed to repeat some of the house's design elements were ideas Callie found on the field trip.

Each single-family house the students designed had to incorporate a 16-foot-by-20-foot living room, a 10-foot-by-16-foot kitchen, two bedrooms, a bathroom, a hallway and two exists.

"The hallway is the element that gives the students the most trouble," Hurt said.

Each design also could include two additional rooms. Dining and laundry rooms were popular inclusions.

As a young boy, Wright played with Froebel blocks that he and his mother bought at the 1876 Centennial Fair in Philadelphia. The smooth maple blocks were geometric shapes. Wright enjoyed playing with these blocks with his childhood friend Frederick C. Robie, who later became his client for whom Wright designed the Robie House, completed in 1910.

The Robie House is the masterpiece of Wright's prairie-style, developed at the architect's Oak Park home and studio. The design would define Wright's long career.

The Schiesher students also experienced balance, symmetry and spatial relationships using Froebel blocks in one of their sessions. By assembling the blocks in different ways, students could study three-dimensional compositions.

"I was amazed how a few blocks could fit together in so many different ways," Callie Walsh said.

Another course requirement was for students to read "The Wright 3," a tween mystery novel by author Blue Balliett, a frequent visitor to the Robie House. Balliett used geometric puzzle pieces to solve her mystery that threatened the famous house.

Student Renee Jeng, 10, said the Robie House introduced her to architecture. For her own house design, she used a cantilever roof over the backyard so a resident's children could play outdoors even when it rained. Renee did not use the Wright technique to hide the front door; rather she made her door predominant to the front of the house, feeling the door could welcome guests better in that position.

When asked to think outside the box as Frank Lloyd Wright did, Renee Jeng said she thought that someday houses will include a room with a recycling machine so a homeowner could recycle products within their own home and do away with curbside pickup.

The Schiesher students meet once a week. All were given the same challenge to design and build a model of a single-family house of their own design. The results were all unique.

"Students complete the program with a sense of how important the spaces we occupy are to our everyday life," Hutchinson said. "The Schiesher students are an inquisitive group. They are engaged, curious and astute."

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