School of Architecture students raise a barn with Madison Primary fourth-graders

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On a snowy November afternoon, fourth-graders from South Bend’s Madison Primary Center came to the University of Notre Dame campus to build a barn.

The 21 elementary students met with fifth-year School of Architecture students at the Stepan Center on Nov. 12 (Tuesday) for a barn raising, part of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network’s “Teamwork and Timbers” program.

Madison Primary fourth-graders working in "Teamwork and Timbers" program

Aimee Buccellato, assistant professor in the School of Architecture, organized the event after hearing about the program, which brings the barn around to various schools and organizations so children in grades four through 12 can experience architecture and history firsthand.

“This exercise is one of a series of exercises that I organized for my Intro to Building Technology course so that the students get a very physical and tactile exposure to the materials that we’re studying in text and in lecture. I thought that as long as this model is traveling here from Michigan, we should bring together students from the community to expose them to traditional timber framing,” Buccellato said. “It’s a living language; it’s a way of building that we can use and do still use today. These students benefit from working as a team.”

Deb Martin, the principal of Madison Primary, was interested in the teamwork aspect. She invited students who she thought could learn from the experience of this after-school field trip. Martin said the students who participated were excited to learn how to build a barn.

Madison Primary fourth-graders working in "Teamwork and Timbers" program

The students started working on constructing the barn in four groups, led by a handful of Notre Dame undergraduates. “I’ve invited some fifth-year architectural students to come and talk to these young students about what it means to be in architecture school, the kinds of things they’re studying, and what it means to be an architect,” said Buccellato.

The 1,100-pound timber frame, which resembles a quarter-scale 19th-century barn, comes together like a puzzle. While assembling the frame, the fourth-graders learned about different types of wood, parts of a barn and methods of construction from the Notre Dame students and members of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network.

“Once they see what they’re doing, they see there starts to be a rhythm to it,” said Charles Leik of the National Barn Alliance, who brings the frame to schools for the Teamwork and Timbers program. Leik said this model has been traveling around Michigan for three years. “We made the timber a little lighter for the fourth-graders.”

After an hour and 15 minutes, the fourth-graders successfully assembled the timber into a sturdy barn frame, with the help of the Notre Dame students and Leik and his colleagues. The frame is later disassembled and loaded onto a truck to go to the next school.

Madison Primary fourth-graders working in "Teamwork and Timbers" program

“I hope they take away an appreciation for understanding how fundamental things go together and how we can make elaborate and strong structures using very simple materials and very simple connections,” said Buccellato. “You see a lot of buildings today that are made out of highly sophisticated materials and sophisticated technologies, and we tend to think that those are the best buildings. … I hope the students get an appreciation for the way things go together.”

Martin said the school plans to put together a video presentation for parents after the event, where the fourth-graders can explain how they constructed the barn frame. “We can follow how the kids did it, how they learned it through their own eyes.”

With the construction of a campus building dedicated to the School of Architecture, Buccellato hopes to do more projects like this in the future. “Since this is at the core of what we teach at the School of Architecture, I hope that we can somehow make this kind of exercise and exercises like it part of our curriculum and outreach efforts.”