Upper School Explores Architecture through Spanish Lens

Honors Spanish III students are challenged to design structures based on the work of famous Spanish architects.

Designing and creating a model for an original structure is challenging, and our Upper School Honors Spanish III students did it all while speaking Spanish!

For the past two weeks, Upper School Spanish teacher Drew Forlano led students through this annual project that combines Spanish culture, history, and language with making, building, and design thinking.

Mr. Forlano’s class started their curriculum by studying the work of renowned Spanish architects Santiago Calatrava and Antoni Gaudí (well known for building Barcelona’s Sagrada Família). Then, students were asked to take part in a contest by designing a structure (a bridge, tunnel, building, etc.) for the city of Richmond using the work of Calatrava and Gaudí as inspiration, mirroring the process of professional architects being invited to submit designs when a city wants to implement a new structure.

With the help of Bryan Innovation Lab Division Liaison Laura Akesson and Bryan Innovation Lab Lead Technologist Shane Diller, the students built models for their structures in the Bryan Innovation Lab using materials that architects would really use, such as foam board for walls and metal wire for suspension cables. Middle School Spanish teacher Maria McCarthy, who holds a Master’s degree in architecture from Arizona State University, also guided the students and helped answer questions. Throughout the build process, Mr. Forlano spoke to students only in Spanish as a way of familiarizing them with correct vocabulary and phrases in relation to the project.

After their models were complete, students gave Google Slides presentations (all in Spanish) to their class explaining the structure they built, how they built it, where it would go in Richmond, and what its purpose would be. Structures ranged from VCU apartment buildings to pedestrian bridges in Belle Isle.

“The structure had to have a concrete purpose,” Mr. Forlano said. “I wanted them to really think about the structure and what it would mean for the city. This way, students were thinking with a local perspective, but they also were thinking globally by learning about Spanish culture and receiving a constant Spanish language experience through a hands-on project.”

The three Honors Spanish III classes will look at pictures of each model and, taking into consideration what they heard during presentations, will select which model is the contest winner.


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