This month, Joe Buteau’s students have been applying the principles of geometry to the task of designing and constructing a freestanding arch. The open-ended nature of the task was initially intimidating to students who weren’t sure how to begin or whether they had enough information to complete the task. However, students quickly saw that their knowledge of the angles of a trapezoid and the lengths of parallel sides would be critical to the task.
Before starting the project, students learned about the history and application of arches in architecture throughout history and why an arch's design makes it uniquely strong. They also learned vocabulary specific to arch construction. Working in groups of three, students began by selecting a location in the Root Building for their arch. Some groups decided to work on a small scale, designing a tiny arch for a window in the classroom door. While others wanted to build an arch large enough to walk under that could span the distance between benches in the Upper School Hallway. Students took measurements and set to work designing their arches on paper, ensuring that the span and rise of their arch would fit in the space they had chosen. Some arches were elegantly simple, while others incorporated creative flourishes such as a unique keystone.
This year, instead of moving directly from the design to the building phase, each group transferred their design to Adobe Illustrator first. Adobe’s design program allowed them to virtually build their arches to scale and test them making sure their calculations were correct, the arch would sit flat, the voussoirs would fit, and that the finished arch would be the right size for the chosen space. Students were able to make any adjustments before they started measuring, cutting, and constructing. Testing their designs in Illustrator gave each group confidence that their finished product would work says Joe. In addition to the finished product, every student was also assessed on their journal writing and group work.