Kids from St. Cecilia School begin to a construct a small city out of cardboard boxes as they participate in the interactive "We Built This City," an installation from Australia's Polygot Theatre at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Thursday. In the program, kids build, extend, walk through, tear down, and reconstruct their "city" using the boxes as building blocks to build skyscrapers, structures and tunnels. (DON LEACH, Daily Pilot / December 31, 1969)

COSTA MESA — Movable "cities" were created — and just as quickly torn down — Thursday at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Elementary school students built forts, houses, buildings, tunnels, castles and secret rooms from thousands of empty brown-and white-cardboard boxes.

The kids lifted boxes as big as themselves, or scooted them along, to stack on their creations at a frantic pace that barely contained their excitement. About 160 K-3 students from Grace Christian and St. Cecilia schools took a field trip to the center for the installation's last day.

"It felt really exciting to build stuff," said kindergartner Sophia Pagan, 6. "It's really fun, because you build boxes and see what you're good at."

The Segerstrom Center's outdoor plaza was taken over for the last two weeks by cardboard boxes as it hosted "We Built This City," a large-scale participatory installation by an Australian children's theater company, Polyglot Theatre.

The installation was part of the center's 25-year anniversary celebration. Holland estimated about 1,500 people have participated in events related to the project.

The idea is to inspire group participation and creative play, said Jason Holland, the center's education director.

"It's been so great to have them associate creative play and fun with the Segerstrom Center," Holland said.

While the kids ran around building, parents watched the madness unfold around them, or helped out.

Kindergarten mom Mary Beaver of Foothill Ranch said she saw the building as a teaching tool.

"It's like they have to learn to work together and share," she said.

Britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes