Last week, a group of 16 kids managed to plan and build an entire neighborhood from scratch.
Granted, that neighborhood was only a 12-foot-by-12-foot model, but it was made to scale and complete with many of the details a real-life community would have.
The students were taking part in the inaugural year of an architectural design summer camp run by DesignX, a Los Altos-based company.
DesignX also hosts camps for fashion design, textile design and toy design, among other offerings. For founder Durga Kalavagunta, expanding to architectural design was a logical choice.
“Architecture was a natural next progression,” she said. “They see buildings all around them, so it’s something they can relate to.”
The camp aims to teach students about broader concepts like sustainability in design, Kalavagunta said.
Atreyee Ghosh, who has a background in architecture, taught the three-day camp, which was open to second- through 10th-graders.
Ghosh earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s in the theory and history of architecture from Columbia University. On the first day of the camp, she taught the students the basics of architecture and the role it plays in the world.
“It’s basically a crash course in the world history of architecture,” Ghosh said.
The campers then got to sketch out what they wanted to create and Ghosh worked one-on-one with each of them.
Students were given a 1-foot-by-1-foot square on which they could create whatever structure they wanted. The idea was to bring out each child’s individual creativity.
“Creativity looks different for different people, for different concepts, but it’s still creativity,” Ghosh said. “I want them to build confidence in their own unique creativity.”
For Videep Reddy, that meant an ultra-modern house, inspired by his grandparents’ home in India. The structure sported flat roofs, large windows and a covered patio area.
“I like the design and feel of modern houses,” Reddy said. “They’re just very cool looking to me.”
The main building material was foam core board, but Reddy said it was meant to evoke marble walls.
Reddy, who is entering ninth grade at Los Altos High School in the fall, had an interest in building long before taking part in the camp. He has previously built a car, a plane and a sword out of foam core board.
However, he said building a house required far more precision. To get all the pieces to fit together correctly, each cut had to be exact, and the gluing was difficult. Rather than frustrating him, that was part of what made the project fun.
“For me it’s pretty therapeutic, slowly cutting with the X-Acto knife, trying to get as perfect a cut as you can,” Reddy said.
Just as Reddy was inspired by his grandparents’ house, Ghosh said many of the campers were inspired by their own lives. A pair of twins who loved soccer created two houses with soccer fields, complete with mini balls they painted.
Ghosh gave the students free rein to fill their plots in any way they saw fit. One girl made two apartment towers, with a roller coaster wrapping around one and a water slide around the other.
“They don’t have to build something that they see outside,” Ghosh said. “You can build something unique and think outside the box.”
Although architectural design is DesignX’s newest offering, it isn’t the first time the company has expanded. Kalavagunta began in 2009, offering a fashion camp for elementary school children called DezignKidz.
Over time, other design fields were added and in 2017 DesignX was born. In addition to running summer camps, DesignX also has after-school programs and has partnered with local schools to offer programs during the school day.
DesignX helped run an elective class in textile design at Los Altos High last school year, where students designed an outfit for a class partner.
Kalavagunta is a former designer herself with expertise in leather design. She had two children go through local schools, with the elder graduating from Los Altos High this year.
For Kalavagunta, it is important that all of DesignX’s offerings are relatable for kids and help teach them about their surroundings. Because architecture surrounds us every day, it made sense that it would be something campers could connect to.
Said Kalavagunta, “It’s a great way to engage the kids in the world around them.”