Seattle Times Article

Kids dream up cities in architecture class

Arc classes

Dora Taylor teaches the kind of summer camp I would have loved as a kid. Not the running-and-jumping-into-the-woods type of camp, but the drawing-cutting-and-building experience kids get out of her architecture classes.

I met Taylor Tuesday afternoon at her Capitol Hill house, where her living room has been transformed into a classroom for the past year.

As she was getting ready for her students to arrive, the soft-spoken architect talked about a recent project where kids dreamed up a Seattle intersection in the Central District, a real one they looked up on Google Earth: E. Union St. and 23rd Ave.

For one corner, they came up with a two-story building with a yoga business on the second floor and an ice-cream parlor on the first floor. “While their moms were in yoga, they would go eat ice cream,” explained Taylor. For the other corner, they planned a nursery and a store that would sell locally-grown fresh fruit and vegetables.

Town planning is more than putting buildings out there, said Taylor, who practiced architecture for 16 years before starting her classes for kids full time. “It’s about understanding the needs of the community,” she said.

Taylor is one of ten successful applicants getting a temporary new work space thanks to Storefronts Seattle, a community program that aims to revitalize the Pioneer Square and International District neighborhoods bringing creative enterprises to empty retail spaces.

Of more than 140 applicants, Taylor and other nine candidates were selected for 3-month rent-free residencies that were announced last week and start Thursday.

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When Dora Taylor’s students arrived at 9 a.m., they didn’t waste a second to start drawing and cutting pieces of paper. “We are going to be working on the models,” said Leah Murphy, 10, one of three kids attending the architecture summer camp session.

Her mother, Meg Ferris, of Queen Anne, said Leah became interested in architecture from reading “Percy Jackson and The Olympians,” a series of adventure and fantasy books with a lot of references to Greek and Roman architecture.

Leah’s friend Iman Lavery, 10, and her brother Declan, 7, also signed up for the class. Their mother Yazmin Mehdi said Declan is often building with Legos, but this experience is new for him since he can’t rely on three-dimensional pieces.

But that didn’t stop him from taking on an ambitious project: building the Taj Mahal. “He saw it when he was 3 years old and he has never forgotten it,” said Mehdi, whose parents are from India. “He thinks of the buildings he’s seen when we have travelled.”

The kids enjoy learning the process of designing and building using tools they have to be careful with like scissors and cutters. It’s also a great opportunity for them to get an introduction to a subject they don’t get at school, said Mehdi.

Taylor has been teaching architecture workshops for kids out of her 140-square-foot living room for the past year. Models built by students like Leah, Iman and Declan crowd shelves blocking the only window in the room and line on the chimney’s mantel — a theme-park layout made out of candy canes and gum drops and a water-park resort to name a few.

While the kids didn’t seem to mind the tight quarters in the classroom, Taylor is looking forward to teaching in a bigger room. After this week, she starts a three-month artist residency at a 200 square-foot, rent-free vacant retail space near Occidental Square. “I can’t wait to stretch out,” she said.

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