Art | Instruction

Make Your Mark: Design with a Purpose


Students will design a new building for their community, explaining how their ideas influenced their artistic decisions. The Vanna Venturi House provides a case study of how one architect designed with a purpose, demonstrating how design decisions can be evidence of the architect’s intentions.

Activity 1: The Vanna Venturi House

The Vanna Venturi House

  1. Introduce assignment to students. Explain that they will be designing a new building for their community.
  2. Watch the Vanna Venturi House segment from the PBS special, 10 Buildings that Changed America, on DVD or at Prompt students to take notes during the segment about Robert Venturi’s design intentions – the reason behind his design decisions. CONTENT NOTE: In this segment, Robert Venturi makes an obscene gesture. It is electronically masked, but in a way that makes his intention clear.
  3. Facilitate discussion about the Vanna Venturi House segment. Questions to prompt discussion may include:
    • What were Robert Venturi’s design intentions?
    • How are these intentions evident in the design of the house?
  4. Brainstorm ideas for what may play a role in determining the students’ design intentions. Consider sustainability, weather, social engagement, and history as starting points. For example, creating a sustainable building may change how the building is oriented or the materials used. Students may want to encourage specific social behaviors, such as spending more time outdoors. Ideas for design intentions can be reactions against something the students dislike, as in Venturi’s reaction to Modernism. Consider responses that are based on stylistic reactions such as Venturi’s – or any other reaction, such as a cultural reaction to the lack of in-person contact in the digital age. Some students may find it easier to brainstorm problems or concerns and create their design intentions as a reaction to them.
  5. Individually, have students identify three ideas that they are interested in using to inform their design intentions.

Activity 2: Design Development

  1. In small groups, have students discuss how their design intentions could be made evident in architectural designs.
  2. Students should sketch ideas for their buildings.
  3. In small groups or as a class, have students present their design intentions and sketches. Encourage peer discussion about student projects. Pair students to take notes for one another during peer discussion. Consider the following questions as prompts:
    • What about the design best exemplifies the intentions?
    • How would you revise the design to make the intentions more evident?

Activity 3: Model Building

  1. Using the feedback from the peer discussion, students should revise their designs and build models of their designs. Model-building techniques and suggested materials can be found in the two books listed in the section titled “Art Preparation and Resources
  2. If time permits, have students create sketch models (rough draft models) so they can see how their designs transform into three dimensions. Sketch models provide students with experience building models and an opportunity to see their designs in three dimensions. Lead a peer review of sketch models before students build final models. Revisit discussion about design intentions and introduce discussion about making well-crafted models.


Assignments are designed to address the standards and learning goals of the lesson. Each assignment is mapped to the appropriate standards and learning goals.

  1. Evaluate written design intentions and models.
    • Level III Standard 1.1: Understands what makes different art media, techniques, and processes effective (or ineffective) in communicating various ideas.
    • Level III Standard 1.2: Knows how the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes can be used to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.
    • Level IV Standard 1.1: Applies media, techniques, and processes with sufficient skill, confidence, and sensitivity that one’s intentions are carried out in artworks.
    • Level IV Standard 1.2: Understands how the communication of ideas relates to the media, techniques, and processes one uses.