Last week, groups of high school students presented design ideas for a newly revamped flee market in Prince George’s county to faculty and graduate students from the University of Maryland’s Architecture Program. While the design project itself was hypothetical, the students’ enthusiasm, knowledge, models and plans had all the makings of a real-life design presentation. This opportunity to demonstrate their newly acquired skills provided an ideal conclusion to the ten-week Architecture in Schools program at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, MD, where concepts of space, design and surrounding environments help bridge the gap between academics and community in a fresh, unique way.
Now in its 18th year, Architecture in Schools is a regional program sponsored by the Washington Architectural Foundation. It matches architecture professionals in the Washington, DC-metro area with public school students and teachers, kindergarten through high school. An active partner in AIS, the Architecture Program at the University of Maryland has been placing architecture students into classrooms at Northwestern High School for the past four years, engaging art and engineering students with a real-world, relatable project. Undergraduate and graduate students work side-by-side with the high school teachers on a daily basis, creating a curriculum, devising lesson plans and closely working with the students on a variety of design concepts.
The program's goal is to expand student’s creative and analytical skills through a unique architectural design curriculum, engaging students in a project that is important to them. This year’s project challenged students to re-think a space adjacent to the high school where a weekly flee market takes place. With more and more vendors participating each week, the market is reaching capacity, and is in need of a permanent structure where shoppers can sit, eat and socialize. As the Northwestern students embarked on their design concepts, one of the challenges faced by UMD student volunteers was getting them to think beyond just walls and windows.
“I think the concept was hard for some of the students to grasp in the beginning,” explains Yukari Yamahiro, a graduate teaching assistant who is pursuing her Master of Architecture. “We wanted the students to think beyond just a building and focus on some of the greater concepts; what are the important social, cultural and environmental issues within the community? How can the building’s design improve those environments? We wanted to explain that architecture goes beyond just the walls.”
After a visit to the site, students broke out into groups and created picture collages as a way to express their vision. UMD Volunteers encouraged them to use images that depicted not just the physical look, but captured the esthetic and mood they hoped to create with their space. From there, students learned the basics of scale, drawing plans, sections and elevation, as well as the importance of sustainability and safety. Students also took into consideration aesthetic qualities like airflow and light. Armed with their new skill set—and a universally agreed upon design concept—the groups went to work drafting and modeling their pavilions. Students wanted to create a space that was also available to the Northwestern community during the week, so the groups’ aimed to make the pavilion flexible and multi-purpose.
“Leading these students has been a terrific yet challenging learning experience for me, in the sense that I want to offer guidance without stifling their own vision and creativity,” says Andrew Campbell, an undergraduate architecture major at UMD. “I certainly have a greater appreciation for my own teachers.”
“It’s been a fun and challenging process from the start,” says Itzayana Osorio, a senior at Northwestern. “Not just learning how to actually draw and plan a section, but how to explain what we’re trying to do.”
While the project focuses on developing a design plan from start to finish, students walk away with more than just a showpiece. They sharpen their analytical skills, broaden their perception and experience the give-and-take of working as a team. They also learn techniques for speaking in front of a group, conveying their concept and engaging an audience, all in preparation for the university presentation.
“Participating in this course helps the students understand not just how a building design comes together, by why it is designed the way it is,” explains Roxanne France-Woods, an art teacher at Northwestern High School. “I think this translates to a greater message that in art—as in life—everything has a purpose, and I think the students will be more aware of their environment because of it.”
“The skills exercised in the AIS program will help prepare these students for whatever path they choose to take,” says Madlen Simon, director of the University of Maryland’s Architecture program. “Whether they consider a career in architecture or not, the techniques they learn here are very cross-disciplinary.”
The Architecture program’s participation in AIS is also part of a broader University-led partnership with Northwestern High School created by a memorandum of understanding between the University of Maryland and Prince George’s County Public Schools in March 2012. This MOU allows for the University to showcase the Northwestern High School Partnerships while promoting and strengthening mutually beneficial relationship the university has in the UM District communities.
“AIS is a way for us to enrich and inspire the next generation of students, and hopefully allow them to have some fun too,” adds David Cronrath, Dean of the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. “We are thrilled to be a part of such an important program.”
The student’s work from this year’s Architecture in Schools program was on display at the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation during Maryland Day, held on April 28, 2012.