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Green Design as a Teaching Tool

Tens of thousands of school children visit the Art Institute every year, and they are served by the museum in part by programs for educators. In our workshops, K-12 teachers learn strategies for engaging their students with original works of art at the museum and integrating art across their curriculum back at school. One recent teacher program was the three-day workshop Exploring Green Architecture and Design, which used the architecture of the Modern Wing as a starting point for broad-ranging discussions about sustainability, design, and education. The group consisted of educators from Chicago Public Schools and other local school districts, with subject area specialties ranging from art to technology and foreign language.

In this workshop, we asked: How can learning to think like a designer build skills for problem solving and critical thinking? And what exactly is sustainable or “green” design? Over the three days we explored what sustainability means in terms of objects, buildings, and cities. Teachers examined designed objects in the Modern Wing galleries and learned about the green features of the building, which received a Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) Silver Rating from the US Green Building Council. You can see a video about that here.

After looking at the Modern Wing and some of the design objects in the collection, the group visited the Lurie Gardens in Millennium Park with a landscape architect and toured the Chicago Model City exhibition at the Chicago Architecture Foundation to consider the role buildings and landscape design play in the city as a whole. They also visited the Chicago Center for Green Technology to see even more green building strategies in action, and left inspired by the green roof, rain barrels, alternative energy sources, and permeable pavement that we saw there. I’m happy to say the group left abuzz with ideas for implementing some of these features in their own homes and schools.

On another day of the workshop, the group was joined by architect Linda Keane of the School of the Art Institute, who has developed a fantastic K-12 design curriculum called NEXT. Linda led the group in several activities; they created models of architectural pavilions based on natural forms and developed plans for greening their existing school campuses by adding features such as green roofs, gardens with native plants, stormwater management systems, solar panels, and recycling facilities. Teachers then created digital versions of their designs using Google SketchUp, a free online three-dimensional modeling program. Some examples of the projects they created are here and here:

From the museum’s perspective, one of the most satisfying things about a workshop like this is how teachers react to what they learn and make plans to incorporate it into the classroom. These teachers have big plans to make art with recycled materials, help students formulate ways to be more responsible with energy and resources, and teach creative thinking in terms of the environment. We’re excited to see what they do!