Approaching a lengthy article can be intimidating. As a reader, you may find yourself nervously asking: "Will I be able to follow it? Will I be able to remember one section once I've moved onto the next? Will I be able to figure out what's most important?" "A House for the World" might trigger those questions, but these activities will guide you through the process of reading longer passages.
For students: We hope this guide sharpens your reading skills and deepens your understanding.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from AramcoWorld, by teachers at any level.
Common Core Standards met in this lesson: RL/RI.1, RL/RI.2 (see details below).
—The Editors

Do you have comments?  I'd be pleased to hear from you at [email protected]
—Julie Weiss

"A House for the World"

Approaching a lengthy article can be intimidating. As a reader, you may find yourself nervously asking: "Will I be able to follow it? Will I be able to remember once section once I've moved onto the next? Will I be able to figure out what's most important." "A House for the World" might trigger those questions. Never fear! The first part of these activities will guide you through it. You'll learn some tools that you can use again and again—whenever you're reading something you find challenging. By the time you finish, you will be able to: 
  • Follow and understand the content of a lengthy, complicated article; 
  • Answer basic questions about Ithra: who, what, when, where, why and how.
Once you've sharpened your reading skills, the second part of the activities will help you dig deeper into the content, developing your analytical skills as  you think about Ithra, the new Saudi Arabian cultural center. By the time you finish the Part Two, you will be able to :
  • Explain how buildings can embody the values of the organization(s) they house;
  • Identify different perspectives about Ithra and address how to manage conflicting points of view.

Part 1: Reading Comprehension

Photos and Captions

Visual Images have a way of grabbing us: it's natural to begin reading by looking at the pictures. (In fact, some editors lament that many readers go no further than the pictures, so they try to squeeze as much information into the captions as they can!) Look at each visual and read the captions. Make a few notes of topics to look for as you read and questions that the images, and captions raise for you. Then keep your eye out for answers as you proceed. 

The 5Ws and an H

Journalists have the challenging task of writing brief reports that pack in the most important information about a topic. One way they do that is to be sure they ask and answer six basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? As you read, asking the same questions can guide you and help you identify key points. It can also help you see what might be missing, which is particularly important so you can be a sharp, insightful reader.

On each of six pieces of paper— or six pieces of chart paper, if you want to do this as a class—write one of the questions. Read the first sections of the article, ending with the line, "The next question was how to build the thing." Look for answers to the 5Ws; write then on the appropriate pages. You may notice that the questions are not as simple as they might seem at first. Who, for example, can refer to who built Ithra, who designed it and who is the intended audience. When can refer to many different points along a 12-year journey from idea to completion. You can add to your lists as you read the rest of the article. For now, just notice how much basic information writer Matthew Teller has provided early on.

Now read the rest of the article, one section at a time, pausing after each section to add to your lists—especially the How. Also, after you finish each section, write a one-sentence summary of the section's main idea. That will help you keep track of what you've read, and when you're done, reading these responses should give you a summary of the article.

The Main Points

The bottom line when it comes to reading an article like this is what's most important, what should be remembered. Identify what you think are the three most important ideas in the article. Share your answers with the class; then, as a class, decide which three ideas are the most important. You may have to advocate for your point of view to persuade others than an idea you identified is actually among the most important.

Part Two: Analyzing the Content

Now that you're sure you understand the article, let's move on to analysis. Following are three key topics addressed in the article, with questions to help you explore them more deeply.

The Mission

Most organizations have a mission that guides its leaders and employees/members so that the company together knows what is to be achieved. A lot of thought when into Ithra's mission; "A House for the World," even provides details about the process by which the mission took shape. Find the parts of the article that address Ithra's mission and highlight them. In your own words, write Ithra's mission statement. Think about it as an "elevator speech"—that is, if someone asked you what Ithra was about, what would you tell them—briefly, in the time it takes to ride an elevator from say the lobby to the ninth floor? In your explanation, include an example of something Ithra has done that supports its mission. Share your elevator speech with others.

As a point of contrast, if time allows, think about a different mission for Ithra. For example, what if a new building had remained, as it was conceived early on, mostly a home for the Energy Exhibit or, later on, a library? How would that affect the mission—the building, the kinds of activities and the perceived audience?

The Building

Ithra's building is more than just the place where a mission is fulfilled; it is a major part of the mission. In a second color, highlight the sections of the article that discuss Ithra's building.  Key people at Ithra assert that the building embodies the mission. Discuss with your classmates what that means. Start by thinking about a building you know and how it embodies the mission of the organization that uses it. For example, what do the architecture and design of a local library tell you about the library's mission? Then return to Ithra's building and list examples of how it embodies the mission.

The Tensions

The article also describes major differences between Aramco and Ithra. Each organization—although connected—operates differently and with different values. According to the article, what is the basis of the oil company's culture? What is the basis of Ithra's culture? How do the two differ? How have the difference been negotiated? Divide into groups of three. Have one person represent Ithra, another represent Aramco and the third take the role of Fatmah Alrashid, whom is described by a colleague as "the bridge." Role play a conversation in which the architect and the Aramco official each state their point of view, and Alrashid attempts to help each one understand the other and find a way to work together. Do the same with the question of how different people understand the symbolism of the rock-shaped building. Think about how the people involved in creating Ithra managed to hold onto different ideas and yet still work together toward a common goal. 

This lesson meets these Common Core Standards:

RL/RI.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

RL/RI.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.