Making the Connection: Math and Architecture

Taking a walk around your town center can turn into a lesson about math and architecture.

By Jacqueline Dwyer


Making the Connection Between Math and Architecture

On a recent walk around town, I asked my homeschooled children to take photographs of various buildings and other structures they saw. I told them that although each structure might look different, and serve a different purpose, each one was built using the same geometric principles. In order to discover this, we conducted the following investigations.

Recognizing Two-Dimensional and Three-Dimensional Shapes

Most young children can recognize two-dimensional shapes like triangles and squares. Thus, I had my children draw two-dimensional shapes on paper and label them as the first step in our lesson. Then I asked them to look around the house for common items, such as, cereal boxes and tin cans. These items represent the three-dimensional versions of the building shapes. Next, they looked at the photos they’d taken of local town buildings. They had fun shouting out each three-dimensional shape they found. Then they drew the shape on the photo with a red marker.

Math and Architecture Around the World

The Eiffel Tower in Paris is constructed of triangular trusses. It is a excellent way to introduce children to the beauty of Eiffel Towermath and architecture around the world. Take a look at the arches of Roman aqueducts, and you’ll see a perfect example of repeating patterns. My own children made an arch out of foam blocks, which was a lot of fun and quite tricky until the keystone was in place! They also looked at pictures of the Parthenon, which beautifully illustrates the mathematical concept of symmetry. The Sydney Opera House and the Coliseum in Rome are other examples of buildings with famous architecture; one modern, one ancient. The children were intrigued to discover similarities in their construction, based on simple geometry, even though the buildings exist in different parts of the world and hail from different time periods.

Architecture in Optical Illusions

If your children love looking at optical illusions, as mine do, have them take a look at M. C. Escher’s so-called ‘impossible structures’. These are another great way to showcase math and architecture. One of his most famous lithographs is called "Ascending and Descending," in which monks walk eternally up or down a loop of stairs. It’s based on the principle that in a two-dimensional world you can’t illustrate front and back simultaneously. But don’t tell them that until they have tried to figure out why a column that starts out in front of another, always ends up behind it!

Project-Based Learning

If you have older children, they might be learning to estimate measurements and solve math problems including perimeter and area. I found that when my eldest son did a project related to architecture, he learned geometric formulas far more successfully than through the drill and memorization method alone. A walk around the outside of our house taught him about perimeter. He learned about area by measuring the inside of each room and figuring out the square footage, in both feet meters. Once he had all the measurements, he drew the house and property on graph paper. This turned out to be a simple, yet effective, lesson in scale and proportion. Below are some lesson plans designed to provide some wonderful ways to teach children about math and architecture.

Math and Architecture Lesson Plans:

Math and Architecture

Students examine different types of architecture. They create graphs and tables to illustrate how architecture is designed to meet a population's needs.

Geometry: Architecture Grabs You

Students compare and contrast two-dimensional and three-dimensional geometric shapes in the classroom. They then take a look at the three-dimensional shapes found in architecture in their local community.

Connecting the Dots? Geometry and Architecture

Students go on an Internet scavenger hunt to learn terms used in geometry and architecture.