February 2019 🍂
Architecture & Design: Pop-Up-Play
Author: Chad Kennedy, Landscape Architect
Most autumn Saturday mornings at the downtown library in Modesto, California are decorated with shoppers and families enjoying artisan organic foods and searching for hidden gems and trinkets at a seasonal farmer’s market along a closed-off section of 16th Street. There is always plenty of music, food, and social dialogue, and everyone enjoys themselves. Once a year, however, this same location is overtaken with laughter, giggles, and smiles as hundreds of families and children swarm the area, overshadowing the events of the farmer’s market, to participate in an annual pop-up play event meant to raise awareness within the community about the design industries.

This pop-up play family event was developed by members of the local ASLA and AIA chapters as a way to involve children and families in the wildly popular Modesto Architecture Festival, a week-long festival celebrating local architecture and design (now branded as MAD Week ). The hope was that over time, more of the community would become familiar with the design professions and enjoy what they have to offer. The pop-up play family event is consistently held on the third Saturday of September, and this past year was the 8th consecutive year it was held. For months prior to the event, a team of landscape architects, engineers, library staff, architects, and volunteers coordinate and determine how to bring their skills and passions together to best showcase how fun design can be. Those same professionals donate their time and resources as they gather on the day of the event to mentor, guide, and help families learn, play, and enjoy their time together. 

Over the years, children and families have been introduced to a variety of activities that encourage them to expand their minds, develop their creativity, and get their hands dirty. A few highlights over the years are shown below as examples of what activities have been enjoyed.
Children learned about sustainability as they built a dog house from insulated foam building panels and installed a live green roof with functional irrigation. The green house was then auctioned off and proceeds went to a local charity who was building the City’s first dog park.
Children used left-over paper tubes, rope, and other materials to design chairs, cabins, and other cool things.
Children used rolled up tubes made from left-over magazines and tape to create engineered trusses that formed stable arches and domes.
Children worked with structural engineers to build structures out of household materials (like spaghetti noodles, straws, and marshmallows) and then tested them for seismic stability on an earthquake table to see how they would stand up to lateral movements.
Children were challenged to think in three dimensions as they were provided with 3D puzzles of architectural landmarks, insects, planes, and other items. Puzzles ranged in difficulty from simple (only ten or so pieces) to difficult (hundreds of pieces).
Children got their hands dirty as they learned about plants, how to pot them, and the importance of soil and water.
Children participated in a Cardboard Challenge competition during which they had all the cardboard, doohickeys, markers, crafts, and tape they could ever want. They were given no rules governing what to build or design, or how to develop their ideas, just free reign of loose materials and access to adult guides if they needed them. First, second, and third prizes were awarded for the most creative use of the materials on hand. Winners created a guitar, a moving scroll video game, and a 3-dimensional dragon.
Children typically have free play options as well such as drawing, coloring, and Lego blocks. Many of the children who participated were exposed for the first time to Lego and other fun crafts.
Other activities children have engaged in during the event have included: architecture themed reading times in the library, architecture exhibits in the children’s department of the library, architecture drawing competitions, spatial planning games, life-size Jenga builds, loose play corners, AutoCAD and SketchUp learning stations, and much more.

This past year the ASLA California Sierra Chapter also utilized its Park-in-a-Pod concept to make the event more comfortable, playful, and engaging through the addition of color, shade, and seating that is otherwise unavailable on the grounds of the library. 

This event is now under the umbrella of a larger effort known as the Modesto Design Collective that hopes to expand on what amazing things have happened in the community and looks forward to exploring more ways to introduce the community to the amazing world of design. 
About the Author
Chad Kennedy is a Vice President at O'Dell Engineering and Principal of the Landscape Architecture Division. He is a licensed landscape architect, a Certified Playground Safety Inspector, and advocate for inclusive play and interactive public process.
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