Design Your Own Building: Rhode Island State Police Headquarters

By Carolyne Kellner, January 1, 2007

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Three fifty-minute class periods


Rhode Island State Police Trooper Sean McCarthy* presented the architectural designs for a new state-of-the art State Police headquarters that will be built next year. The students discussed the plans with Trooper McCarthy and brainstormed a list of what was needed in the building. They then created their own floor-plans for a building.

*note: Any guest speaker working on a building design project can come speak to the class. The goal of the lesson is for students to see design taking place in the real world.

National Standards

Science & Technology
Identify appropriate problems for technological design.
Design a solution or product.
Communicate the process of technological design.

Using Knowledge of Structures & Functions
Students employ organizational structure and analyze what makes them effective or not effective in the communication of ideas.
Students select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of their ideas.
Students use visual structures and functions of art to communicated ideas.

Social Studies
III. People, Places and Environments: Middle Grades
b. create, use and distinguish various representations of the earth, such as maps, globes, and, photographs
c. use appropriate resources, data, sources, and geographic tools such as aerial photographs, satellite images, GIS, map projections, and cartography to generate, manipulate, and interpret information such as atlases, data bases, grid systems, charts, graphs, and maps
VI. Power, Authority and Governance
c. Analyze and explain ideas and governmental to meet needs and wants of citizens, regulate territory, manage conflict and establish order and security.


Students will:

  • learn about the use of design in the real world
  • learn how problems are solved using design
  • design the floor plan for the building of their choice


  • floor plans of various building
  • articles about the Rhode Island State Police Headquarters


  • easel paper
  • rulers
  • markers


  • Aerial View
  • Floor Plan
  • Architect


  • Trooper Sean McCarthy* visited the class and spoke with the students about the need for a new State Police headquarters. *Any guest speaker working on a building design project in the school’s community can play the same role. Have the speaker stress the importance of reaching consensus in incorporating the needs of different groups into the design, i.e. the needs of detectives, police, forensics, crime labs, the public, parking, ballistic labs, and K-9s. The speaker should present the blue prints for the new building to the class and demonstrate how the building has been designed to meet the needs of the groups listed previously.
  • After the guest presentation, divide the students in to small groups of four or five.
  • Tell the students that they will design their own building. They can design any type of building that they want, for instance a mall, a prison, a mansion, a sports complex, etc.
  • Once they choose what type of building they would like to design, they must brainstorm a list of what is needed in their building and then incorporate those needs into their design.
  • Have the students work on large easel paper in their groups in order to sketch an aerial view of their designs (like a blueprint), as well as a “dollhouse” view, using their brainstormed list as guidance. Give the students two class periods to work on their designs.
  • At the end of the second class period, post the finished designs on the wall for public display.
  • Hold a class critique and have each group present their building, noting the various components that make up their building. Have them read off their brainstormed list and point out where each item is. Encourage discussion among all groups of encourage constructive criticism.


Compare the group’s brainstorming list to the actual design, the group's reflections, and the presentations of their designs. How practical are the group’s designs? Do they work?

Enrichment Extension Activities

There were cross-curricular connections (see Social Studies and Science & Technology standards). Trooper McCarthy also gave a civics lesson about his involvement in public safety and law.

An architect could visit the class also, and the class could visit other buildings, and build a model.

Teacher Reflection

This lesson was incredibly successful. Having Trooper McCarthy come into the class taught more than the art lesson. His primary objective was to show students how design is everywhere, even in police work. Additionally, Trooper McCarthy gave a lesson on civics and was an excellent role model for the students.

The students loved having Trooper McCarthy in the classroom. They were so inspired and couldn't wait to begin their designs. They used their imagination and I could tell from the discussion in the classroom that the students remained focused and on task.

For some groups, though, the idea of an aerial view was not a concept that came naturally, for example, using a "doll house" approach rather than an "aerial view."

Also, some students would "forget" to use their brainstorming list. This list defined the "needs" of their building and was important because design solves a problem or a need. It was interesting to note that the students had to come to a consensus, just like different groups need to do when designing a building. This was an exercise in all the work that goes into designing a building.

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