Architecture – the art and science of designing and erecting buildings – affects our lives more than any other type of art. Many of the architectural elements that we find in our cities today come from building traditions that are over 1,000 years old. The task of printing a structure that includes one or more architectural elements can awaken children’s interest in architecture, history and mythology.

Orvieto, Italy, photo  courtesy of Diane Harr

Line print by Kevin, age 7

Learning Objectives

Creating a building with architectural elements encourages the  development and practice of:

  • planning, placement, printing, construction and design skills.
  • observing and recognizing important architectural structures from different times and different parts of the world.
  • awareness of the built environment
  • identifying architectural elements

An Abbreviated History of Architecture

Spark interest in architecture by sharing an abbreviated history. We are fortunate that so many examples from the ancient world are still standing today.  We can also see and learn more about them on the internet!

Watch a Teacher give an introduction to the history of Architecture

Information provided by Diane Harr, studio art teacher at the Smith College Campus School, Northampton, MA


Post & Beam

Stonehenge was built in England about 4,000 years ago. These enormous stones are one of the earliest examples that remain of post and beam construction.


Why and how Stonehenge was built is still a mystery. Many experts believe that it was built to worship the sun god. Others believe that it was part of a huge astronomical calendar.


The early Egyptians rounded the posts to create the columns. The ancient Greeks refined the column and, over time, created three distinct new styles: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

Doric: The simplest and heaviest of the columns.

ancient doric column
Photo by Tobias K. Davis


ancient ionic column
Ionic: A much more graceful column. The capital (top of the column) is made up of two spirals called volutes.

Corinthian: The fanciest. Its capital is made up of small curling forms. The Greeks didn’t like this style very much, but the Romans did and used it in many buildings.

ancient corinthian column


Greek Refinements: Entablature and Pediment

Built 2,500 years ago on a hilltop in Athens, Greece, the Parthenon could be seen from all over the city. It was built to worship the goddess Athena and to hold the treasures of the city.

post and beam parts
The ancient Greeks refined and lengthened the early post and beam construction. The posts became graceful columns. The beam became a rectangle (entablature) filled with carvings and designs. The construction was able to support a triangular pediment, which in turn supported a roof.

The Parthenon


The Romans copied many Greek designs and added to them. Important additions were the rounded arch and the use of concrete, which opened up space and supported bigger and taller structures.

The Pont du Gard, in Nimes,  France, was built by the Romans to carry water from high ground, across distances, to city reservoirs.

Because of the strength of the arch it was possible to span wide distances. For the first time in history bridges and aquaducts (to bring water to important Italian cities) were built.

Ponte alla Carraia, Florence, Italy



The invention of the arch led to the creation of the dome and the vaulted ceiling. These self-supporting structures opened up graceful overhead spaces more than ever before.


Dome of the Rock, 688 CE (Jerusalem)



Due to their ability to raise and open spaces without the need for central supporting pillars, domes and vaulted ceilings are used in religious buildings world-wide to inspire awe and spirituality. Each culture has changed and added to these basic forms.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal in India was built in 1684 by Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife. Notice the shape of the dome.

tajdraw1   tajdraw2   tajdraw3

In these three illustrations, the artist Ande Cook shows us the strategy she used to draw the Taj Mahal. Handout, “Islamic Architecture,” School Arts Magazine, Dec. 1994

Get Started!

Watch a Teacher Motivate and Demonstrate Designing and Printing

Practice constructing using the line tools (no paint at first!).


  • post and beam
  • columns
  • pediment
  • entablature
  • arches
  • domes
  • and more…..


Review strategies in “Building with Shapes

Adding a Curve

curved line tools

With the addition of curved line tools, domes and arches are easy to add.

  • Hold the half circle on its edge.
  • Place carefully so as not to smear.
  • Lift.

joncurve  jondesign


Children's Strategies

kathy prints a building
Notice Kathy (age 7) worked out her idea on practice paper(in front of her) before working on the white paper.

Watch a video of second graders working on structures with with architectural elements.



ransoms parthenon cropped
Here is the painted print of the Parthenon that Ransom created in the above video.


The Parthenon

The symmetry of the Parthenon always seems to inspire a few students. In the end, the printed structure may not resemble the Parthenon at all – and that does not matter! What matters is that the beauty and history of the Parthenon gave this child a concrete place to begin creating his own building.


Willy explains his design to Cathy  parthenon1  willy's design of the parthenon

The teacher holds up the children’s work from the previous week before she sends children off to begin painting. Willy (age 7) explains his printed structure to the rest of the class, "I tried to make the Parthenon and here are some of the columns."


Taj Mahal

Many children enjoy taking on the challenge of trying to recreate the Taj Mahal with printed lines and shape.

austin   austin painting
"I’m doing the Taj Mahal and it inspired me. It has really nice designs." ~ Austin, age 7


gina   gina's arch
Gina, age 7



Children often pick up on unique details. The draped female figures, or caryatids, that form the columns of this portico in ancient Greece intrigued Mia (age 7) to create the entrance to her temple.


Portico of the Erechtheion (420-393 BCE), a temple which lies to the North of the Parthenon. This temple contained the olive tree that Athena called forth during her contest with Poseidon, along with other treasures.

mia designs her caryatids
Mia, age 7



When exploring the theme of architecture, children also draw ideas from stories, movies and their imaginations.

Olivia making cinderella's castle  olivia cinderella
"This is Cinderella’s castle. It’s just because I really like Cinderella so much. It’s really the best picture I’ve really done in two years and I’m really proud of it. It’s really the best house I’ve ever done." ~ Olivia, age 7

hogwarts painting
"This is Hogwarts, but I don’t think it really looks like it." ~ Faith, age 7

Buildings for Animals

Children incorporate their interests and ideas in inventive ways.

animal shelter franny
"This is my animal shelter I made…I just wanted to do something for animals and I practiced one over here and then I really got the idea of an animal shelter and I started doing butterflies." ~ Franny, age 7

zoo by Mia
A zoo, by Mia (age 8)

barn devon2  barn12
"I did a barn because I really like animals and I have chickens. I really like the shapes and colors." ~ Devon, age 7

Community Buildings

hospital2   cooley dickenson
"This is Cooley Dickenson Hospital where I was born. The crosses gave me the idea." ~ Nolan, age 7

Emma's school
"It’s a made-up building. Maybe it’s a school." ~ Emma, age 7

Children’s other ideas:
 - A book house of the future.
 - I wanted it to be a library
 - It turned into a jail.
 - It’s a cross between a lighthouse and a fire station.
 - It’s the Hitchcock (Wildlife) Center.

tory's church arch  tory
A church by Tory, age 8

Global Impact

Children notice and think about important issues and events that are happening and being discussed in their world. Materials provide an outlet for them to express their understanding of and feelings toward these issues and events.

laura paints twin towers  twin towers by laura
"Well, I chose it because I wanted to show that I was very sad about what happened to them. I chose to paint them, they’re the Twin Towers. I decided to paint them because I just wanted to show that I was so sad about what happened to them." ~ Laura, age 7

Alternative Ideas: Monuments

When Jonah (age 7) asked if he could paint the Eiffel Tower, his request sparked other children to try printing some of the monuments that they had seen.

jonah eiffel tower
The Eiffel Tower by Jonah, age 7

lincoln memorial by daniel
The Lincoln Memorial by Daniel, age 7

statue of liberty by arcadia
The Statue of Liberty by Arcadia, age 7


fenway park by david
"I like baseball and I really like watching it on TV. I really like the Red Sox … that’s what gave me the idea." ~  David, age 7

skateboard park by alexander
A Skateboard Park by Alexander, age 7


It is not uncommon for children to extend the initial concept or even to change it altogether.

eamons boat
As Eamon (age 7) worked on a building, he found that it had turned into a Buchaneer Ship!

max boat
Max (age 7) asked if he could do a boat instead of a building. As he worked, I was amazed to see all of the details he included and asked him how he knew so much about boats. He said, "it’s because I lived on one for a year."


Related Project: A Treasure Hunt

An architectural treasure hunt is a great way to revisit the architectural elements and to see how they have been used and modified in one’s own community. Be sure to scout out the streets to be explored before bringing a group of students. Design a check sheet based on buildings that your students will see. Here is an example:

Can you find:

window shapes
1. Window Shapes


roof shapes
3. Roof Shapes

architectural forms

Draw the most interesting shapes that you see.___________________

Draw an architectural discovery

Draw your favorite building.



Using the line tools is a great way to practice representing three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. Look at a section of any room. Hold up your line tool and practice positioning it to create each part of the room. Match the direction or angle of your tool to the element or feature that you are trying to create before actually printing. It takes a few minutes to get the idea.

couch perspective 


Practice placing lines and printing with no ink. Once you feel comfortable, go ahead and print.

cwt kitchenprint