On Saturday, November 3rd, SOM took part in the 36th annual Sandcastle Classic competition, a fundraiser and community event that brings together more than 3,000 people at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Architects, engineers, contractors, and designers teamed up with local elementary school students to build oversized sand sculptures. The event benefits Leap: Arts in Education, an organization dedicated to providing arts education in Bay Area schools.
This year, employees from SOM, Whiting-Turner, BuroHappold, Syska Hennessey Group, and F.W. Spencer & Son partnered with fourth and fifth grade students in the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program (JBBP) at Clarendon Elementary School.
In response to the competition theme,"Building Bridges," the team built a sandcastle in the shape of a handshake, symbolizing friendship and shared connections. Participants designed team shirts depicting a handshake with children walking from one side to the other, making a literal “hand bridge.” The team also created a sign to display its chosen name: the Hashi Heroes (“hashi” meaning bridge in Japanese). The sign is composed of individual prayer flags, adorned with each student’s handprint. On build day, the flags were assembled together to represent the friendship among the students.
In preparation for the competition, team leaders visited Clarendon Elementary School to lead brainstorming and inspiration sessions, along with introductory lessons in architecture and design. SOM's Yoko Takada, Benjamin Golze, and Ammee Snyder, along with Chase Kossack of BuroHappold Engineering, led the sessions, using fresh fruit to demonstrate concepts like sections, plans, and elevations. It was at this initial school visit that one of the students came up with the idea of using friendship to reflect the competition’s theme of building bridges—which in turn developed into the handshake concept.
SOM also hosted the students for a day in the San Francisco office on October 5th. Approximately 60 students, 20 SOM staff members, and additional volunteers from the partner firms discussed sandcastle ideas, built clay models of their designs, explored topics like structures and scale, and toured the office.
Anifer Pita, one of the SOM staff members who organized the event, described it as an opportunity to not only contribute to LEAP’s mission, but also to spark students' interest in architecture and promote diversity in the field. “By showing kids the world of architecture and design through experiential learning, creative collaborations, and real-life interaction with professionals, we’re introducing them to the possibilities of architecture as a career. This diversifies the pool of talent rooted from an early age and, in turn, promotes diversity in ideas about how to build our future world,” she said.
SOM is grateful to Leap for the opportunity to support arts in education, as well as to all the program sponsors, parents, attendees, and students who made this year's event a success.