Building Strong Communities with AIA

AIA application with tablet

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) aims to grow interest and diversity in the profession in part by encouraging high school students to consider becoming architects one day. “One of the things we’ve been trying to do is develop tools that help people understand what architects do and how they make a difference in their communities,” said AIA Vice President-elect Peter Exley, FAIA. 

To that end, AIA called on ViewPoint Interactive Solutions to create a tablet-based game called Build the Block, which asks players to design a major city building. AIA wanted to unveil the game at a popular live event, a Chicago Ideas youth lab. Chicago Ideas is a unique non-profit fostering connectivity that crosses industry and social boundaries. 

Why did AIA choose ViewPoint? Part of software development firm Integrated Computer Solutions, ViewPoint has created engaging gamification solutions for a variety of organizations, including Boston Scientific, New England Journal of Medicine, Ingram Micro, and Beckman Coulter.

“For AIA, our goal was to create an exceptional learning experience for high school students, many of whom have had no prior exposure to the architecture profession,” said ViewPoint Director Philip Chila. “ViewPoint’s interactive technology brings subjects to life in a memorable way. Build a Block was designed to encourage the students to discover what it feels like to actually be an architect.”


"ViewPoint was a pleasure to work with. Their process was straightforward so we always knew what to expect. They really understood our vision and worked tirelessly to create an interactive experience perfectly suited to our audience."

AIA Team
Blurred office workers

About the Game

The role-playing game brings together small teams of students with a professional AIA architect who serves as a guide. Each student is assigned to a team and given a role to play, for instance, client, local business owner, or another community member like a firefighter. Each team is charged with designing a major new facility that benefits their community. Teams may choose to build a hospital, school, or low-income housing complex. To help teams choose wisely, the Build the Block tablet provides background on the impact of each type of facility and suggests questions intended to spur thoughtful discussion.

With the help of their AIA guide, the students participating in Chicago Ideas explored the pros and cons of each option before deciding what type of project to pursue. One team chose to build a three-story affordable housing complex encompassing senior housing and parking, a design that prioritized revenue generation and increased security. Other groups focused on wellness. Two teams elected to build hospitals convinced a new medical center would have the greatest positive impact on the community.

As part of the design phase, students sketched their visions for their buildings. The game concluded once teams, using the Build the Block game’s digital interface, presented their ideas to the larger group of all participants.

A Great Success

More than a dozen high school students from around Chicago participated in this unique event. Many said playing the game opened their eyes to how architectural choices could impact a community — feedback AIA and ViewPoint deeply appreciated. AIA has since used the game at other events, as well as worked with ViewPoint on a mobile version that can be played individually, as part of ongoing efforts to bring young people and architects together.

Two young professionals looking at iPad

"Hopefully, Build the Block will give some insight into what architects do, how we impact communities, and how we work with people to build a better future."

AIA Vice President-elect Peter Exley, FAIA
Man touching digital web