KANKAKEE — “Our imagination is our only limitation,” said Wright in Kankakee executive director Robert Bohlmann in reference to the new Educational Center Lab that opened Saturday at the Frank Lloyd Wright B. Harley Bradley House.
The new lab provides students exposure to science, technology, engineering, art/architecture and math within the walls of the home designed by Wright, perhaps America’s most famous architect. While the lab will be open to third- through eighth-graders, it is geared toward fourth- thorough sixth-grade students.
“The new lab provides an opportunity to expose children to design, structures, drafting and the arts through an experience at Wright’s first Prairie School designed house,” Bohlmann said. “The students will participate in a STEM like environment along with elements of arts and architecture. Students will be able to draft, design, build and learn about the professions and trades that create and build our environment.”
The educational center lab was created in the lower level of the home.
“Very few Frank Lloyd Wright homes have basements. The B. Harley Bradley Home, built in 1900, has a basement because that’s what the family wanted,” Bohlmann said.
The lab will be open to school groups on field trips at the start of the next school year. This summer, the lab will be open to small groups such as two to three families with children and youth groups.
“The new educational lab is a perfect location for a class field trip or family gathering that exposes young and old to built environment professions and trades,” Bohlmann said.
A typical field trip or family visit consists of a tour of the living room and dining room learning about architecture, stained glass and the home’s skylights. Volunteer guides will discuss the history of Wright’s design philosophy and practical application.
“Kids will get to learn about the ‘built environment’ and what better location than a Wright house,” Bohlmann said. “Buildings shape our society for better or worse.”
Bohlmann, an architect himself, noted that an important part of each tour is learning about careers, not just architecture or structural engineering but also interior design and the trades.
“If your dream is to be an architect, go to college and try it. Finish college and show your talents and ability. You could be a fantastic architect with wonderful designs. But without a carpenter, electrician, mason or pipe fitter, you can’t build it,” Bohlmann said.
Even the floor joists and columns in the lower level have been left exposed so the kids can actually see elements of home construction and design.
During tours, children will spend 30 minutes drafting and designing in an area replicating Wright’s Taliesin West studios. Seated at drafting tables, students will draft, engineer and draw while also working on communication, collaboration and cooperation skills.
“Some kids are comfortable using a t-square, while others are more comfortable drawing,” Bohlmann said.
“We want kids to be creative in any way they can,” said Susan LaMore, Wright in Kankakee board vice chair and education and exhibits chairperson.
Kids also will spend 30 minutes in the design/build area using Froebel Blocks, Lincoln Logs and Legos.
Froebel Blocks, known as the original educational toys, were developed by Friedrich Froebel, inventor of kindergarten, and made famous by Wright, Buckminster Fuller and Bauhaus artists. The Froebel wood block sets are designed to help teach kids math, fractions and structure.
Lincoln Logs, invented by Wright’s son, John Lloyd Wright, will allow children to build and create small buildings and forts using the notched miniature logs.
On display to provide inspiration in the design/build area are the Lego Architectural Series featuring Wright’s Frederick C. Robie House located on the campus of the University of Chicago; Falling Water in Pa.; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in N.Y.; and the Imperial Hotel in Asia.
Children can read more about Wright in the lab with books, including “Who Was Frank Lloyd Wright,’’ “I Love Architecture,’’ “Stained Glass Window Designs of Frank Lloyd Wright” and “Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects.’’
To end their tour, children can design a stained glass window using geometric pieces of various shapes, sizes and colors. Their creation will be scanned onto a transparency for them to bring home and display as a sun catcher. Children also will receive a photo card of themselves and their classmates from the field trip to take home.
The new endeavor was made possible with $3,500 in financial grant support in from the Iroquois Federal Foundation. The grant funded the lab furniture, supplies and educational materials.
“This lab will provide tremendous inspiration to our youth,” said Iroquois Federal Foundation president Chip Hasselbring. Vice president Rhonda Pence added: “Education and creativity are important parts of our children’s lives. Who knows, maybe one of the children who come through the lab will be the next Wright.”