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“Within less than a century the life of this city and of all the United States will be utterly transformed. We will have inaugurated an American culture which will become one of the most distinctive cultures of all history. As yet there is no national culture, because we have been too busy imitating. But we are beginning to find ourselves in the various arts. The signs are appearing. But the greatest transformation that time will bring will be in the amelioration of existence. I believe that a great deal of happiness is in store for the American of the twenty-first century.” —Frank Lloyd Wright

Cities in Harmony: A National School Design Contest

Subjects: Civics, Art, Social Studies, Technology

Grade Levels: one contest for grades 3-7, one contest for grades 8-12 (Note: the activity suggestions below are recommended for an audience grade 7-12. See “Extensions and Adaptations”for younger audience suggestions.)

Estimated Time of Completion: 7-8 class periods

I. Summary
II. Objectives, Standards, Prerequisites
III. Procedures
IV. Classroom Assessment and Extension Suggestions
V. About the Author

I. Summary

This contest will require students to think about the relationship between buildings and their environment, the different types of buildings found within cities, and the ways that the environment affects its human inhabitants.

Students will be asked to use Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture in the design of several representative city buildings. Students will design the natural environment first and then work collaboratively on appropriate architectural designs for that environment. Students will use SimCity and SKURK software to accomplish this.

II. Objectives, Standards, and Prerequisites

Objectives: Students will be able to

  • collaborate to design building(s) as part of a team for entry in a national contest
  • illustrate knowledge of design by designing structures that are appropriate for the landscape
  • discuss different types of landscapes in the world
  • define different types of zones in cities and the buildings in them

Standards: This activity correlates to the following national standards as established by the Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory (McREL) at

National Geography Standards:

  • Knows the location of places, geographic features, and patterns of the environment.
  • Understands the concept of regions.
  • Knows the physical processes that shape patterns on Earth’s surface.
  • Understands the patterns of human settlement and their causes.

National Technology Standards:

  • Know the characteristics and uses of computer software programs.
  • Understands the nature of technological design.

National Language Arts Standards:

  • Gathers and uses information for research purposes.


  • SimCity 2000 for Macintosh or Windows
  • SimCity Urban Renewal Kit (SCURK) for Macintosh or Windows (packaged with SimCity 2000 Special Edition)
  • A copy of the PBS documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright, a television, and a VCR
  • Macintosh or Windows compatible computer
  • 3.5” Floppy disks
  • LCD Panel or other computer screen projection device

Where to Find SimCity 2000 & SCURK:

  1. Check your school computer lab. It may already be installed!
  2. Check your school district media center.
  3. At any local software dealer.
  4. Maxis Web Site Store at
  5. The SimCity software retails between $19.99 and $34.99; the SKURK software may be obtained for $1.99 at the URL above.

III. Procedures

  1. Ask students to name the most important buildings in their city or town. Create a prioritized list on the board. Ask students to imagine what the most important buildings were 100 years ago. What are the differences in the two lists?
  2. Introduce students to Frank Lloyd Wright by reading them Wright’s comments about the future of cities, “The Cliches are His Own,” and “Tyranny of the Skyscraper.”
  3. Have students watch clips from the documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly the film chapters titled “Shining Brow,” “Hosanna! A Client,” and “Taliesin West.”
  4. As students watch these segments, have them take notes on Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs and what made them special. His designs flowed with the landscape and he wanted his designs to become one with nature. Have students note the different landscapes and what types of structures were designed for each landscape.
  5. Designing architecture is not without problems. What problems did Wright encounter in his designs and how did he solve them?
  6. The film segments all illustrate Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture. Have your students read the essay on organic architecture on the PBS Frank Lloyd Wright Web site and explore the other architectural movements on the site.
  7. Have students work in groups to identify the definition of organic architecture. The groups should compare and contrast organic architecture and other architectural movements. Make a list of the qualities of all the architectural movements including organic. Have your students label the qualities with which movement it describes. Some qualities will overlap while others will standout. Discuss with your students why certain qualities stand out and how that makes the movements unique.
  8. Have students look in magazines, in videos, on the Internet, etc. for contemporary buildings they would consider “organic.” These should be presented to the class.
  9. After watching the video and discussing the questions above, start the computer activity.

Landscape Design

Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture flowed with the nature surrounding it. Using SimCity 2000, as a class, create a landscape in which your student’s buildings will be placed. Tell your students that the landscape you create will be the canvas for your art.

  1. Ask your students to name different types of landscapes/environments in the world and what types of structures are found in them. Students should use a map to identify where these environments can be found. Your landscape in SimCity 2000 can feature the following elements:
    • Water (rivers, lakes, oceans, ponds, & waterfalls)
    • Mountains, valleys, & hills
    • Forests
    • Plains
    • Islands

  2. Ask your students to describe the perfect landscape for a city. Record all ideas so that everyone can see a list of them.

    You can adjust the following elements in your SimCity 2000 landscape:

    1. Amount of water
    2. Height of terrain
    3. Amount of trees

  3. Discuss with your students the following questions:
    • What problems do the different features of the landscape pose in construction and architectural design? Why?
    • How do building designs differ in different terrain? For example, how do homes on islands differ from homes on mountains? Why are they different?
    • What would happen if you placed a home built for an island in the mountains or vice versa?
    • What type of landscape would students most like to inhabit?

  4. After brainstorming and discussing the questions, lead students in designing the landscape for your city using their ideas. Use an LCD panel or other computer screen projection device so that everyone can see the landscape being built. Have students vote on the landscape they will use (island, plains, etc.).

  5. Have students take turns at the computer as the class designs its landscape. Once your landscape is completed, save it. If you have a server, save on the server so that everyone can access it or give each student a floppy disk with the landscape saved on it. You may also print out a copy of your landscape and hand out to students.

Create Your Own Taliesin

Your students will now be placed in the role of architects. To really get them in the role, compare your class to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin where he had many young architects working together. Your students will now collaborate in designing buildings for your city.

  1. Discuss the different types of zones in a city—commercial, residential, and industrial. What types of zones are in a city? What is the function of each zone? What types of buildings are in each zone? Ask students to give specific examples using the city they live in.
  2. Use the PBS Frank Lloyd Wright Web site to classify, by zone, the different buildings appearing on the Web site. Divide students into groups to work on this. Ask each group to report its findings. Any disagreements among the groups will be your chance to clear up any misunderstandings of the different types of zones.
  3. Have students brainstorm the types of buildings that will be needed for each zone in your city. Create a list of all the buildings that will be needed for your city by zone.
  4. Divide students into three equal groups assigning each group a particular city zone. Try to have equal computer skills among all three groups. If possible have no more than two students working together on a building so that each student will get a chance to operate the computer.
  5. From the list of buildings needed, have students select a building they will design for your city using SCURK. It will take students several periods to complete their building and some time to get used to the controls of SCURK.
  6. Upon completing a building in SCURK, have students save it and place it on your landscape in SimCity 2000. Use the sign tool in SimCity to label the building.
  7. Complete two buildings appropriate for each zone for a total of six buildings.
  8. Encourage students to:
    • Be creative
    • Be original
    • Build buildings never seen before

Access to Computers

The ideal situation for this contest is to have enough computers in your room or access to a computer lab in which all students can be designing buildings. If you have limited access, have students take turns designing buildings. If students have SCURK at home, encourage them to work on their buildings at home and save them to a floppy disk so that they can be placed in the landscape at school.

Completing the City

As students complete their buildings, add each structure to the landscape. This will allow students to see how their work is coming together to form a city. You may place the students’ buildings as often as needed in the appropriate zone to fill it up. You do not need to fill in the entire grid with zones or buildings. Do not use any buildings or structures already created in SimCity 2000. All buildings should be the original work of your students.

IV. Classroom Assessment and Extensions

Classroom Assessment Recommendations

Evaluate students on the following aspects of performance:

  • The student participated in the brainstorming and discussion activities.
  • The student demonstrated understanding of organic architecture through class presentations, oral discussions and electronic design of buildings.
  • The student cooperated with partner(s) when designing a building.
  • The student completed a building that was placed in the landscape.


  1. Have students write a description of the inside of their building describing what it looks like and how it functions. Have them draw the interior of their buildings.
  2. Use a CAD program to design the interior of their buildings.
  3. Research Broadacre City, Wright’s futuristic urban plan for America.
  4. Watch clips from movies that show other ‘cities of the future’ like Bladerunner, Brazil, or 1984. Compare these to Wright’s futuristic vision and to your students’ own ideas about what life will be like in cities of the future.

For younger students:

  • Begin by looking at cities and neighborhoods in children’s programs like the Jetsons, the Flintstones, Sesame Street, and others.
  • Talk about what types of buildings exist in cities and why they’re needed. Divide these into commercial, residential, and industrial.
  • Look at some pictures of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. Ask students to guess if the buildings are commercial, residential, or industrial.
  • Show students pictures of different types of landscapes. Have them identify the name of each environment and point to its locations on the map.
  • Show students buildings designed for different environments (an igloo, a log cabin, etc.) Ask why these look the way they look. Talk about building materials, special requirements for living in different areas, etc.
  • Ask students to vote on the environment they’d most like to inhabit.
  • Guide students through SimCity and SKURK as they work in groups to design their buildings.

V. About the Author

Chris Hungerford is a technology teacher at EXCEL Alternative High School in Marshalltown, Iowa. Chris was named the Midwest Regional Teacher of the Year by Technology and Learning Magazine for 1998. Chris created a class called Virtual City that uses SimCity 2000 to help his students learn all about cities. Students in the class have real mayors in the United States as e-mail partners. In his spare time, Chris enjoys serving as a reserve deputy for his local sheriff’s office.

For more information on contest rules, regulations, and deadlines please see the Contest Guidelines sheet.