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Toronto Real Estate University of Toronto’s tech summer camp for budding architects

Students at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design Summer Academy at the University of Toronto.

Harry Choi

What do drones have to do with architecture and design?

And why will a bunch of 9- to 14-year-olds descend upon the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto this summer?

To find answers to that question, and also to have a lot of fun.

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“This is new territory for Daniels,” says the school’s manager of external relations, Nene Brode, about the new Summer Academy she and Nicholas Hoban have created, “and it comes from the fact that we have this new building.”

Indeed, only a year and a half since opening the doors of their stunning building – the gothic-revival gem that started life as Knox College in 1875 and was reworked by the Boston-based architecture and urban design firm NADAAA – the school is eager to engage with the city at large and show off their amazing collection of computerized machining tools, laser cutters and the big robotic arm in the Fab Lab, which can do some pretty impressive things.

“It’s way more precise than a human being will be, and a lot faster,” says Mr. Hoban, the school’s digital fabrication co-ordinator. “So you could stack a brick wall in any kind of shape, form or variety within a couple hours versus a human [who would need] to measure it out, which would take much more time.”

And what kid wouldn’t want to see a robotic arm in action? Or program a drone to fly around a racetrack that he or she helped create using SketchUp design software?

While older kids can listen to lectures and learn about coding and the fabrication of drones, the younger kids can enjoy a program akin to a Maker Fair, with outdoor activities as well.

Harry Choi

While all academy attendees will do these things, there will be slight differences between the “Bits & Bytes” group (ages 9 to 11) and the “DigiFab” group (ages 12 to 14). While the older kids will benefit from guest lecturers, debate and even the coding and fabrication of drones, the younger kids will enjoy a more “activity-based” program that will be a little more like a Maker Fair, with some athletic time outdoors thrown in, says Ms. Brode.

The camps will not be rigid, however: “The curriculum is the curriculum, but then the kids are going to have questions … the goal is to work with the kids so you put the curriculum aside and then you deal with whatever exploration they want to do; it’s giving the leaders enough freedom to say, 'Look, if an activity is going really well, don’t end it,’ or vice-versa, if something is tanking…”

It’s hard to imagine anything tanking at a place as exciting as the Daniels building. On a recent walkabout with Ms. Brode and Mr. Hoban, there was a lot going on despite the academic year-end. While the Computer Numerical Control routers were sleeping and the robotic arm was being recalibrated, a bunch of students were busy with the water-jet cutter, and the many tiny models in the 3-D printing room means things had been humming the day before.

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Impressive, too, was the laser cutter lab (which Mr. Hoban thinks might be the largest in Canada), where the kids will witness keychains they’ve drawn come to life. Ms. Brode adds, however, that academy leaders be sure to give context to these trinkets.

Campers can create street maps to better understand urban planning, and build buildings with blocks and inflatable plastic.

Harry Choi

“I think we still have a ways to go to see how that [kind of technology] can be in our life … for architecture, it’s rapid prototyping, so how can we do something small and imagine it large? But there are lots of ways that this is evolving that we haven’t figured out, like 3-D-printing [of] skin and bone.”

Even non-techie areas, such as the studio spaces, will be transformed as the architectural campers create street maps to better understand urban planning, and then build buildings with blocks as well as inflatable plastic. “Things like autonomous vehicles have really impacted the physical infrastructure of Dubai, for instance,” Ms. Brode says.

Other topics that will be covered are the deep web, surface web and dark web along with white, black and grey hat hackers, as well as Instagram scams and why personal security is paramount. “In a fun, casual kind of setting, it’s easier to get those messages out,” Ms. Brode says. “There’s a lot of cool technology stuff that school systems just aren’t getting to because they don’t have access; we’re privileged as a postsecondary, partially publicly funded institution, so we want to share that access.”

There is a desire for the program to reach communities that are underrepresented in the architectural community.

Harry Choi

Thinking back to when I was 9, alternating between navigating my little remote-controlled R2-D2 model down Springdale Boulevard and drawing pictures of Toronto buildings in my sketchbook – and definitely not pining for the lakes and campfires of a traditional summer camp – I wonder if something like this would’ve changed my direction in life. Would I, today, be adding to my own creations to Toronto’s skyline?

“You can’t be it if you don’t see it,” Ms. Brode says. “For kids to be in the space and see themselves as a designer, my hope with the program is to reach further into communities that are definitely underrepresented in our architectural community.”

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For more information on Daniel’s Summer Academy and to register, visit here

And, as a postscript, drones are currently used by architects and designers to survey difficult terrain, create detailed maps and video presentations, but, in future, they may actually help build structures … but let your kids find that out at the academy.

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