"Revit Kids" Present School of the Future

25 Jun, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School students win student design competition.

Last month, middle school students Hallie Hallman (eighth grade), Emily Powers (eighth grade), Ally McCarthy (seventh grade), and Alex Kashtan (seventh grade) had breakfast on Capitol Hill and shook hands with Senator Joe Lieberman. Last week, they were in Centerbrook, Connecticut, speaking to the board members of the local American Institute of Architects (AIA) chapter. Then next fall, during the week before Thanksgiving, while the rest of their classmates are thinking about turkey and yams, they'll be packing their suitcases and double-checking the PowerPoint slides for their talk at the Greenbuild Expo in Boston, Massachusetts. Who knows — they might even get to meet Desmond Tutu, who's scheduled to give a keynote speech there.

After their Connecticut meeting with the AIA board, the rowdy foursome shared pizza for dinner. They also shared a newfound friendship and a vision of the future. What they imagine is a learning environment complemented by wind power, solar-thermal systems, hydrogutters (to be invented by Alex), and even a virtual reality room (inspired by the Holodeck in the Star Trek television series).

A jury comprising 18 architects, facility planners, and other AEC professionals agreed that the students' vision was a cut above the remaining nearly 1,500 entries received in the 2008 School of the Future student design competition. As part of their award, Hallie, Emily, Ally, and Alex spent five days in Washington, D.C., rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lieberman and taking a private tour of the National Building Museum, before racing off to a rooftop reception at the National Association of Realtors' headquarters.

Autodesk likes to refer to the foursome as "the Revit kids," after the company's building information modeling (BIM) software they used to design the school of the future.


Hallie, Emily, Ally, and Alex from Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School in Connecticut envision a futuristic school powered by renewable energy. Their design, completed in Autodesk Revit Architecture, emerged as the winning entry at the School of the Future design competition.

Meet the Lyme-Old Lyme Team
Every year, the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) Foundation & Charitable Trust, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Association of Realtors, AIA, and more than 30 other organizations sponsor the School Building Week program, aimed at educating the public, policymakers, and legislators about the significance of school facilities and the need to improve them. Part of the program is the School of the Future design competition.

"Last year was the first time we entered the competition and the first time we used Revit," said Jennifer Caffrey, who teaches technology education at the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School in Connecticut. "When we were in Washington, D.C., we got the sense that everyone was looking for sustainable solutions. After winning last year and deciding to compete again, we did research on the topic. We included as many renewable energy systems as we could."

Caffrey serves as the students' mentor and adviser in the competition. When she went to school to get her associate degree in architecture 12 years ago, she learned to sketch in AutoCAD's blackboard-like interface. By the time she became a teacher, 3D BIM programs had become the norm. Since the high school already owns a site license of Autodesk Revit Architecture, Caffrey created a middle school curriculum based on the same software for all seventh grade students. She admitted she had to learn the software along with her students.

"I find the kids don't rely on 2D drawings as much as they do on 3D," Caffrey observed. "If they see a 3D model, it makes more sense to them." According to Caffrey, her student Ally constructed the miniature model of the future school, aided mainly by the 3D model built in Revit.


Ally constructed the miniature model of the school of the future using the Revit 3D model as reference.

Hallie, who was the designated Revit modeler for the team, took the bubble-drawing space plan sketched out by the team showing where the library, the courtyard, and the classrooms should be located, then began developing the floor plans and 3D model by raising walls and inserting windows into the design. The students used their current schoolrooms for sizing and adapted them to their future school, then transferred it into their design.


Hallie, the designated Revit expert in the team, developed the floor plan and the 3D model of the school of the future from the bubble-drawing space plan generated in a brainstorming session.

Welcome to the Library
Caffrey noted that her technology education students had a tendency to become extreme home decorators when introduced to the Revit library. The curriculum that she designed teaches the student the basic workings of the library. With her encouragement, they could have free rein. In their hands, living rooms often have to accommodate not just beams and columns, but also Volkswagens and oaks trees.

"They're always asking me, 'Where's the pool?' or 'Where can we find a tractor trailer?' " Caffrey said.

This exercise, while amusing to the kids, also instills in them a sense of scale. "They have no idea that, when they create a room measuring 45 by 50 feet, when they put a bed in there, it'll be a little piece of furniture in one corner," said Caffrey. "Being able to put furniture inside their rooms and being able to toggle between 3D view and plan view help them understand the spatial relationships."

At Caffrey's urging, the students designing the school of the future spent time online researching the manufacturers' backgrounds to ensure the products are environmentally friendly and ergonomically designed.

Shedding Light on Solar Roof
Across the Raymond Baldwin Bridge, about 10 minutes' drive from the school is the office of Centerbrook Architects. Russell Learned, an associate architect at the firm, invited Caffrey's team to present their school of the future to a professional audience.

"[The architects] noticed the kids had solar panels on all four sides of the roof," recalled Caffrey. "But the north-facing side won't get direct sunlight, so it's not useful. They pointed that out to us as well as several presentation pointers that we repaired and adapted quickly."

"Revit is a cutting-edge program, so some older architects might be hesitant to embrace it," she noted. "But if they see these 12-year-old kids embracing it, it might make them rethink."

Hallie, Emily, Ally, and Alex will give the estimated 30,000 attendees at Greenbuild Expo (November 19-21) a glimpse of what the next generation of architects looks like.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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