PS 31 students build with master architect’s apprentice

By Katy Gagnon

Following a year of hard work and careful planning, PS 31 fifth-graders unveiled miniature versions of the dream homes they designed last week.

The 93 students, who designed the models in art class, even got the chance to show their work to architect Edgar Tafel, the last surviving apprentice of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Tafel, who worked with Wright on the historic Fallingwater home in Pennsylvania, stopped by the Bayside school June 25 to congratulate the students and see the finished products himself.

"They'd do well [in architecture] because they're all so different from each other," Tafel said, referring to the range of designs that came from the students. Dressed in a tweed blazer and yellow dress shirt, the 96-year-old Tafel sat among students, holding the 3-D models of their designs.

Tafel first visited the students in October to show slides of structures he designed and spoke of his experiences as an architect.

The visit inspired the children tremendously, said Ross Baughman, who collaborated with PS 31 art teacher Judy Berton to guide the students with their projects. Baughman, a landscape architect, attended a lecture by Tafel many years ago, but reconnected with him recently because he lived near Baughman's friend in Greenwich Village. Baughman asked if Tafel would be interested in talking to the PS 31 students, who included Baughman's nephew Eric Friszell.

From there, the fifth-graders came to Berton's class each week and started to create their dream homes. In art class, the students learned architecture techniques — like an inch on paper equals 5 feet — sketched floor plans and colored window designs for their homes.

They even created brochures touting their homes' many amenities. Based on the students' sketches, Baughman built the 3-D models.

Darryl Reid, 11, who named his home the "Marvelous Miami Mansion," said sketching his floor plan was the best part of the project, while 10-year-old Emily Porr most enjoyed creating colorful window designs.

In a class composition, John Kim, another fifth-grader, said he was cool to the idea of studying architecture at first, but the year-long project turned out to be "perhaps the best experience I've ever had."

Last year, when they were fourth-graders in Berton's art class, the students studied quilting and created patches depicting their homes. This year it seemed fitting to continue the theme of home, Berton said, especially since the kids will leave to attend middle school next year.

"PS 31 has been their home, so I thought the theme of home was something they can all relate to," Berton said.

For the project, her students studied art history and the process of building something from a rudimentary sketch.

"It's not just about architecture," she said. "They learned how to really apply themselves."

Reach reporter Katy Gagnon by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 174.

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