Rube Goldberg Challenge Closes Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Engineers Week

CAF youth program staff Tocarra Mallard, Laura Stamatkin and Manny Juarez

CAF youth program staff Tocarra Mallard, Laura Stamatkin and Manny Juarez

Where might the next great Chicago structural engineer come from? Who knows—it could be one of the 45 area teenagers who built stuff, from scratch, at the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Teen Studio on Saturday, February 22nd.

X38A4156The event capped off the C.A.F.’s 2014 commemoration of National Engineers Week. Six teams of teens worked with C.A.F. mentors who are working engineers, architects, and designers. The goal was to provide the kids with hands-on experience in the creative process.

The Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture hosted the event, where the teams competed to create an invention. The assignment: Come up with a Rube Goldberg invention to move a marble from point A to point B.

“We gave them the task of creating a machine that does an uncomplicated task in a complicated manner,” said Laura Stamatkin, C.A.F. coordinator of teen programs. “The idea is to get kids thinking about design and functionality.”

The Teen Studio event was one of several events the C.A.F. held last week to expose kids and adults to the wonders of engineering. Those included a tall building construction event for adults who used Legos to create model skyscrapers.

X38A4149The C.A.F. developed the 2014 Engineers Week programs to expose people to the field in a non-stuffy setting. Hence, there was nary a slide rule to be found at I.I.T.’s Crown Hall. Instead, kids could select from baskets of building materials—tubes, cardboard, and other flotsam and jetsam you’d find around the house.

Some teams worked with their mentors to plan out their inventions with intricate drawings before fabrication began. Others dove right in and started building their structures. Planning is a good idea, the staff said, but there’s also something to be said for learning through trial and error. Halfway through the event, most of the groups were busy cutting and wielding glue guns to create their inventions. Not everything worked perfectly. But that wasn’t the point. The main idea was to provide an introduction to engineering in a friendly setting.

X38A4150“It can be a little intimidating when you first come in here and see all these intricately-designed models,” Stamatkin said.

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at

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