By Meredith May | SF Chronicle Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle Junior architect Justin Marks helps intern
Nicole Chin learn how to save large blue prints in the computer.
By day, they are typical high school students. But when 1:30 p.m. rolls around, they are working alongside real architects and designers, helping draw sketches, price out materials and make models of San Francisco’s ever-changing skyline.

Build San Francisco Institute is a unique collaboration between working professionals and the public schools to create a fully accredited “small learning community,” for juniors and seniors who love to build things.

The Architectural Foundation of San Francisco rallies volunteers from 13 firms that specialize in design, engineering, construction and architecture, and matches them with a student. The San Francisco Unified School District provides a teacher for afternoon classes in environmental science and architectural design.

Each semester, 20 students enroll in the half-day high school program. Twice a week, they work alongside their mentors in a firm, getting a firsthand look at their chosen career. The other three afternoons a week, they gather in a design studio in The San Francisco Chronicle building South of Market for lessons on sustainability and the latest industry software, such as Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Revit Architecture.

Students dive into projects such as creating a livable community on Mars, complete with robots that break up surface ice to melt and filter into drinking water; domes for houses; and shipping containers with agricultural crops inside. Students used Autodesk 3-D animation software to present their futuristic city and collaborated with students in England and Australia.