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Building Blocks

U of M students talk design and Rice Krispies with middle-school students.

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The Eiffel Tower - MARY CASHIOLA

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built in Italy in 1173. The Leaning Tower of Pizza, on the other hand, is currently under construction at Appling Middle School.

As part of their art class, students are building a replica of the famous tower out of pizza boxes. Last year, the 7th-graders built the Eiffel Tower out of old Crayola marker boxes.

"It's taking something that was destined for the garbage and teaching them about art history, architecture, math, and recycling," art teacher Amanda Wood said.

For the Leaning Tower of Pizza, however, Wood thought the students could use some help. She contacted the architecture department at the University of Memphis, and, though they couldn't help with the day-to-day construction, a group of architecture students decided to visit the school.

"A lot of kids don't know what architecture is," said Kelly May, president of the local chapter of American Institute of Architecture Students. "They know what buildings are, but because they're in them every day, they're overlooked."

After a slideshow of famous buildings from around the world, Michael Chisamore, director of the university's Center for Sustainable Design, hung a basket from a Rice Krispies-treat "beam." The students counted as he filled the basket with 11 cans of cola before the beam snapped, crackled, and popped. Next, Chisamore hung a basket from a Rice Krispies beam reinforced with the "culinary equivalent of steel": Twizzlers.

That time, 24 cans of cola got into the basket before the beam broke.

parts of the Leaning Tower of Pizza - MARY CASHIOLA

"The sooner we can educate young people about architecture and design, the better off we'll be," said Sherry Bryan, director of U of M's architecture program.

For the last few years, the architecture department has also offered a two-week summer day camp for high school students.

"Architecture makes math real," Wood said. "This is taking what students are doing in their classrooms all day long and showing them what they could make with their creativity and math put together."

The after-school event was open to the entire student body, and about 50 kids decided to attend. In addition to the presentations, the Appling students learned about scale models, saw cardboard stools, and designed their own buildings into a streetscape.

Michael Hagge, chair of the U of M's architecture program, said he hopes this is the first of many trips to schools such as Appling.

Maybe they can help Wood and her students with next year's project: the Great Wall of Chinette.

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