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Using K’nex to Teach Large Scale Structures to Architects and Construction Students

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Structural Education Topics in Architectural Engineering

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1335.1 - 24.1335.13



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Paper Authors


Allen C. Estes California Polytechnic State University

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Allen C. Estes is a professor and head of the architectural engineering department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Until January 2007, Dr. Estes was the director of the civil engineering program at the United States Military Academy (USMA). He is a registered professional engineer in Virginia. Al Estes received a B.S. degree from the USMA in 1978, M.S. degrees in structural engineering and in construction management from Stanford University in 1987, and a Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1997.

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Craig Baltimore California Polytechnic State University

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Dr. Baltimore is a professor in the architectural engineering department at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and a licensed California structural engineer. His expertise is in sustainable knowledge transfer; concentrated solar power for urban areas through heliostat and solar-tower power technology; masonry design, technology, and sustainability; and active learning for higher education. In addition to teaching full time, he is actively involved with The Masonry Society. He currently is researching sustainable grout for masonry and serving as an elected official for local community governance.

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Using K’nex to Teach Large Scale Structures to Architects and Construction StudentsThe College of Architecture and Environmental Design at xx University is the onlycollege in the nation that includes architecture (ARCH), architectural engineering(ARCE) and construction management (CM) programs in the same college. There arenumerous opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration that are not present in otherinstitutions. The college also takes advantage of cross-disciplinary collaboration,especially in the early years of a student’s education. The ARCE students take threearchitecture studios side-by-side with ARCH students taught by ARCH faculty. Theyalso take several courses and studios with CM students taught by the CM faculty as partof their early educational experience. Similarly, the CM and ARCH students take a fivecourse structural engineering sequence taught by the ARCE faculty. The first-twocourses in the sequence which cover statics and mechanics of materials of memberssubjected to axial load and bending are taken side-by-side with ARCE students. Thefinal three courses (structural systems, small scale structures, and large scale structures)are taken only by ARCH and CM students. The comparable versions of these coursestaken by the ARCE students require greater theoretical depth and cover more detailedaspects of the governing codes.The challenge of the last three courses is to maintain some degree of computational rigorwhile offering a broader perspective that will benefit the ARCH and CM students. Also,we want to excite them about structures and integrate structure into their own disciplinesin a meaningful way. This paper reports on one means of accomplishing this using K’nextoys to illustrate the entire design - construction sequence and relate how structure fitsinto the process during the final large scale structures course. The project was madepossible by a generous $10,000 donation of 144,000 K’nex pieces from the K’nexCorporation.The students are initially divided into teams and provided with a set of projectspecifications. Each team is charged with developing the architectural and structuralconcept for the project which will ultimately be constructed in a public location usingK’nex pieces. Meanwhile, a series of guest practitioners are invited into the classroom todescribe how the disciplines interact and contribute to this process. Through a series ofdesign charettes, each team develops and presents their concept. The students vote on thebest concept which becomes the class project. The detailed plans are then developed toinclude architectural features and structural requirements. Calculations, final drawingsand architectural renderings are produced.Once approved, the students develop the construction sequence. Subassemblies areconstructed in the high bay lab and carried to the job site. Students have to accomplishthe permitting process through university facilities to allow the structure to be assembledon campus and they must develop a safety plan for both construction and protection ofthe public. On the final days of the course, the structure is constructed and publicallydisplayed for 24 hours. The assessment data reflect that the use of the K’nex toys asconstruction materials for a project that is actually taken through the entire design processenhances student interest, integrates the disciplines, provides a longer lasting and moreengaged appreciation for structure and adds an element of fun to the course. Figure 1. The large-scale K’nex structure constructed on campus during Winter quarter2013 suspending a 100 pound block of concrete.

Estes, A. C., & Baltimore, C. (2014, June), Using K’nex to Teach Large Scale Structures to Architects and Construction Students Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23268

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