Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
Summer programs for young people earn plaudits from the AIA's Diversity Recognition Program
By Kim A. O'Connell
If Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and other members of the Justice League needed a new headquarters building, what would it look like? Would they each get corner offices? Would there be ample windows for daylighting and a rainwater collection system? Would Aquaman have a pool?
This was one of the design problems posed to a group of students participating in Summer CAMP, which stands for Cincinnati Architecture Mentoring Program, created to expose urban schoolchildren to the architecture profession and the built environment. This year, Summer CAMP is one of two summer youth day camps—the other being Architects In the Making (AIM) out of Miami—to receive awards by the AIA Diversity Recognition Program at the AIA Grassroots 2014 Leadership and Legislative Conference this week.
The AIA program recognizes the efforts of architects, AIA components, and others to promote a more diverse profession. The AIA defines diversity broadly, including the contributions of all architects regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical ability, or religious belief as well as alternatives to traditional practice models. The goal is to foster a more diverse profession that is better able to work with the increasingly diverse groups of clients and communities that architecture serves.
Both the AIM and Summer CAMP programs primarily target low-income, minority children in inner city neighborhoods who may not have had the exposure to architects that other groups might get. According to the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), less than 2 percent of the nation's 105,000 licensed architects are African-American. If architecture schools feed the profession, and the nation's middle and high schools feed architecture schools, these camps are predicated on the notion that minority children must be exposed to architecture from a young age to increase the likelihood that they will take preparatory classes in high school, where available, and choose architecture in college.
“It's a wonderful experience for the kids, and keeps them out of trouble,” says Martin Diaz-Yabor, FAIA, a Miami architect and co-founder of AIM, along with Rick Ruiz, Assoc. AIA, both of AIA Miami. “It's obviously valuable if they go on to become an architect. But even if they go on to become a city council member or a doctor or a lawyer, they will understand what architecture is all about.”
“I would not have had an opportunity to see the inside of architecture firms at such an early age if it was not for the CAMP experience,” says former Cincinnati CAMPer Katherine Brandy. “The energy and excitement the program gave [me] for the field and the design process jump-started my interest in a career in architecture.” Now in her final year at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, Brandy says the camp “changed my life and opened new doors to the future.”
An ‘on-ramp’ to architecture
As part of her outreach as the director of the University of Cincinnati School of Architecture and Interior Design, Michaele Pride, AIA, met regularly with groups of African-American high school students and their parents. In those meetings, she would ask them whether they'd ever had contact with an architect. “In six years' time,” she says, “only two people raised their hands.”
Currently a professor and associate dean in the University of New Mexico School of Architecture, Pride co-founded the CAMP program with David Kirk, AIA, Michael Burson, AIA, and Alan Warner, AIA, to raise awareness of the profession among underrepresented youth. The camp is a collaborative effort between AIA Cincinnati, NOMA's Midwest Region, the University of Cincinnati, and the Student Activity Foundation (SAF) of the Cincinnati Public Schools.
The curriculum of the one-week camp is offered to rising 8th and 9th graders from the Cincinnati metro area, and includes building tours, design projects, and interactions with local educators and design professionals. After an orientation, participants delve into a design problem on the very first morning of the camp. Recent design projects tackled by CAMP included streetcar-stop shelters and public street art. The camp also encourages a multidisciplinary approach. In addition to designing the Justice League’s headquarters, for example, campers created a comic book and told an original story about their work. (One student team created a new urban superhero called “Zoning Man.”) “We try to find things like superheroes that will engage the kids and be a great 'on-ramp' to get them interested in architecture,” Pride says.
Since the camp's inception, in 2006, 55 percent of participants were ethnic minorities (including 40 percent African-Americans) and 40 percent have been female. The program is aiming to increase minority participation to more than 60 percent and female participation to more than 50 percent. At $75, the tuition is affordable for lower-income families. Although organizers admit that it's difficult to keep tabs on the campers, they do have anecdotal evidence that at least two former campers have gone on to study architecture in college. “In surveys, the kids consistently report that they feel like they understand more about architecture and are more likely to consider architecture as a career,” Pride says.
Former CAMPer Alexandra Meadows especially liked a project to create public art for Cincinnati's School for Creative & Performing Arts. “That was an amazing project that taught us design for a community and a functional piece of art that made a statement,” Meadows says.
Although she decided not to study architecture in college (she will enter the University of Cincinnati this fall with a double major in economics and international business), she still follows her architectural passion as a photographer of churches around the country and the world. And, she says, the camp “inspired me to stay local and have Cincinnati pride.”
The human side of architecture
Like Summer CAMP, AIM combines studio time with building and construction tours, lectures, and interactions with local architects and building professionals. Launched in 2007, the two-week camp is designed for eight- to 15-year-olds. Its experienced rapid growth, from just 15 participants its first year to nearly 100 students in 2013. It was an exceptionally racially diverse group: 60 percent of participants were Hispanic, 20 percent African-American, 1 percent Asian, and 19 percent white, non-Hispanic. Supported by the AIA Miami chapter in cooperation with the city of Miami, the University of Miami, and a range of governmental and private partners, the camp was provided free of charge until 2012, when a $125 participation fee was instituted (with scholarship assistance available for those in need).
The camp aims to combine real-world concerns with elements that will appeal to kids. In 2011, for example, a group of AIM participants built a sustainable city out of found objects, including paper towel rolls, pine cones, plastic tubing, paper, and wires. The city featured mock wind- and solar-powered buildings and a monorail that stopped right at people's houses.
AIA Miami has now developed an AIM Toolkit that other AIA chapters can use to develop their own summer day camps. The toolkit includes a sample camp schedule, program components, and volunteer requirements. “My dream is to see AIM in every AIA component in the country,” says Diaz-Yabor. (Several other architecture youth programs already exist, including the upcoming “Ever Think of Becoming an Architect?” workshop April 5 in Montgomery County, Md., sponsored by the AIA Potomac Valley Chapter.)
This summer’s AIM camp will focus on world architecture, according to Ruiz. As part of the program, the campers will choose a prominent building, learn about its background, and then build it out of shoeboxes. “The reason for the shoeboxes is that we will have an added program of donating shoes to a needy child,” says Ruiz. “We want the campers to experience the human side of architecture as well.”
A Summer CAMP student and her instructor get the street-level view of the student's streetcar stop. Image courtesy of David Kirk.
A Summer CAMP participant examines his model of a Cincinnati streetcar stop. Image courtesy of David Kirk.
A completed streetcar stop student project, including hand-drawn sketches, computer drawings, and models. Image courtesy of David Kirk.
CAMPers gain valuable oral communication skills and experience the give-and-take of studio presentations with their instructor. Image courtesy of David Kirk.
An AIM student works with tracing paper to draw an architectural floor plan. Image courtesy of Martin Diaz-Yabor.