Bridge Bonanza at the Center for Architecture

The Center for Architecture’s youth and family programs took an engineering turn as both our FamilyDay@theCenter program on 07.27.13and week-long Summer@theCenter camp explored bridge structure and design. Eighteen families, with kids ranging in age from 3-13, attended the two-hour Saturday Family Day workshop where they learned how different types of bridges support weight and span a distance. Images of bridges around the world illustrated each bridge type, then young participants were called up to test large structural models of beam, truss, arch, and suspension bridges. Kids were able to feel and better understand the forces at work as they stood in for the towers, anchorages, and piers of different bridges.

The real test came in the second half of the workshop, when families set to work to design and build their own bridges. Led by their young engineers, parents were put to work tying strings, gluing struts in trusses, and brainstorming solutions. Teams proudly shared their designs at the end of the program and the bridges were carried off to live out useful lives transporting model cars on playroom floors back home.

Bridges were explored in much greater detail by the 3rd-5th -grade students in the week-long summer program. Over the course of five full days, these young students learned about the physics of bridges through hands-on design activities and by building their own mini-versions of each type of bridge to discover firsthand how their structures worked. The class also spent a day in Central Park, scouting and sketching the many arch bridges there. The program was taught by CFAF Design Educator Jenny Lee, a landscape architect by profession and an experienced early childhood educator who has taught with the Foundation for more than six years.

One of the kids’ favorite model-making projects was an arch bridge made with real concrete voussoir blocks. Program Assistant Jo Best and volunteers Harry Branch-Shaw, Ray Liu, Cheuk Kei Hui, and architect Vivian Kuan helped students mix and pour the concrete into ice cube trays and Chinese food take-out containers – perfectly-shaped for these trapezoidal blocks. Once dried, the kids could assemble and disassemble their arches again and again. The final project of the week was, of course, to create their own bridge designs, which were proudly shared with parents and friends at a concluding presentation.

Registration is open for Perfect Playground, our next FamilyDay@theCenter program on 08.17.13, where families can plan and build a model playground, and for one Summer@theCenter program: Chair Design/Build: 08.19-23.13, where high school students will design and build their own full-size corrugated cardboard chairs. For more information about any of the Center for Architecture Foundation’s educational programs, contact or (212) 358-6133.