- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

Many of the wonders of our world can be attributed to the designs of the architect, who mixes creativity with science and technology. A new Web site pays tribute to these geniuses and their craft while trying to inspire children within a fun and educational setting.


Site address: www.archkidecture.org


Julie Cowan, an artist and teacher based in Evanston, Ill., designed and maintains the site.

Creator quotable:

"I know that once children understand and consider how the structures around them come to be, children learn that they have the power to build, change and preserve the built environment. As I witnessed in classrooms, using the subject of architecture can reach kids who learn in a variety of ways, through manipulative, 'building' projects, problem-solving and physical science ideas and through creative design processes and environmental consciousness. And nothing like this exists on the Web … it is playful, attractive and sometimes it succeeds at being funny," Miss Cowan says.

Word from the Webwise:

Miss Cowan's effort to use architecture as a "means of environmental empowerment and encouragement of intellectual curiosity" for children falls short due to a lack of content and confusing linking problems. I counted nine broken links in the first few minutes of my visit to the site. Many of the areas also use a light shade of purple to designate a link as well as for text emphasis, which really can confound folks trying to find extra information.

These annoyances, however, should not stop visitors from carefully looking at the potential of ArchKIDecture and its current sections: Architecture Words, Wacky Stories, Build It Yourself, About Structures, Become an Architect and Enter Classroom.

After reading the only wacky story available about the architect of the Sears Tower, Bruce Graham, who used cigarettes to help visualize how to design the skyscraper, I moved to About Structures and found a hodgepodge of facts.

Using art element rollovers (a Web design technique in which as a cursor moves over an image, the image or something near it changes), the section takes visitors into eight topics of design. Each leads to a piece of information and a question to answer.

In the topic Building Elements, I learned a bit about the history of Istanbul and the domed Hagia Sophia. The question for this topic was, "What was the purpose of the minaret towers on a mosque?" Moving my cursor to "and the answer please" revealed the solution.

Visitors also will want to check out Enter Classroom for a quick lesson on two building supplies the Three Little Pigs were fond of, straw and brick. Each item is explored with pages providing reasons for their use and some recipes for their implementation. It looks as if the site soon will incorporate information on stone, wood, steel and glass.

My personal pet peeve about the site can be found under the Architecture Words section. It's nice that Miss Cowan has listed more than 500 terms, but she lists no definitions. I'm sure many visitors would like to learn about words such as voussoirs or abutment.

Ease of use:

A search engine helps the linking mess and all browsers should be able to load the sparse but nice-looking pages.

Don't miss:

A drop-down menu under Becoming an Architect provides succinct biographies on Daniel Burnham, designer of Union Station in the District; William Le Baron Jenney, father of the steel-framed skyscraper; Mies Van Der Rohe; and the team of William Holabird and Martin Roche. I do wish Miss Cowan would quickly add biographies of Louis H. Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, as I consider them two of the modern legends of the discipline.

Family activity:

ArchKIDecture does not come up short on projects for the entire clan to enjoy. Under the obvious, Build It Yourself, visitors will find areas on drawing, small designs and large designs that range from sketching a floor plan to building a geodesic dome to using toothpicks and mini-marshmallows to make a hollow structure.

Cybersitter synopsis:

Parents should know that some links leave the ArchKIDecture site, so keep an eye on junior, but, overall, students will quickly devour this site and move elsewhere for deeper places of enlightenment.

Overall grade: B-

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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