Lesson #1: Drawing buildings in the neighborhood


Why is it important to carefully observe what you draw?
Students will be able to:
Draw a local building during a neigbhorhood walk
Analyze the physical makeup of a building by looking at its size, shape, color, texture, and detail
Students will understand that:
Artists learn about a structure by carefully drawing it.

sketchbooks, ebony pencils


Ideally, the buildings surrounding the school should be used as a main resource.  If a neighborhood walk with the students is not possible, the teacher should take photographs of the buildings on a particular block.  These photos can then be used in the classroom to make sketches. 



Note to teacher: It's a good idea to figure out your route beforehand and pick a block or grouping of buildings that you will stop in front of to discuss. Make sure the architecture is interesting enough to lend itself to a good discussion.

Explain that students will be taking their sketchbooks and ebony pencils outside to carefully look at some buildings and sketch them.

  • What do you think we can learn about a building by sketching it? (see all its architectural details, guess who might live in it, etc.)

This will be a looking exercise. You will see that everyday structures and objects can reveal many interesting things when you take the time to look at them carefully. Taking photos can extend this esperience to your class and help in discussing architecture and community location.



Lead students on a walk to the buildings you have chosen to observe. As you lead the walk, stop and ask them to start looking closely at the buildings around them. Ask questions, such as:

  • Is this an apartment building or a house?  How can you tell?
  • Who might live in this building? How many people? (apt living vs house living)
  • Describe the details you see on this building?
  • What size and shape are the windows?

Explain that architects design buildings, contractors and construction workers build them, with plumbers, electricians, etc. Landscapers design the greenery we see in and around the city blocks and parks. The parks themselves are designed. Before decisions are made for what something will look like, architects and landscape designers make sketches as we're going to do today.

Demonstrate how to simplify one part of the building and sketch it quickly.

Direct students to select some areas of a building that they particularly like and to make a few, small sketches in their sketchbooks. The parts that are drawn should be labeled.

Back in the classroom, ask students to reflect on what they saw.

  • In what ways did you have to look at this building differently in order to draw it?
  • What did you notice about this building that you never saw before?
  • Why is it helpful to directly observe the object you're drawing, rather than to work from memory?


Find a building in your neighborhood and make a sketch of it. Describe it in writing. Answer the following questions:

  • Who do you think lives in it?
  • What is the building used for?
  • What makes you think so?

Encourage students to continue to observe their surroundings, looking at the buildings they pass everyday and start to look at them more closely. Think about the people who live in them and what the buildings are used for.