#IMadeThat, From Youth to Professionals

Pittsburgh's Architecture Learning Network

By Samantha Weaver Posted on November 18, 2017

Images of the ACE Mentorship Program, photo credit Anastasia Dubnicay.  Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation Architecture Design Challenge, photo credit Louise Sturgess.  CMU Saturday Sequence Program, photo credit Paul Moscoso

Pittsburgh is a city that embodies an interconnected web of makers and learners of all ages, truly living up to its title as one of America’s City of Learning. No matter your age, each citizen of the world has knowledge and expertise about their environment and can have agency to effect change in their communities.

Pittsburgh’s Architecture Learning Network is one partnership in the city where eight non-profits have joined forces to support architecture educational programs in the region. The result is an architecture-learning pathway that helps youth prepare for careers in the building industry. Students connect their learning experiences and connect to real-world projects and professionals with a focus on civic engagement, agency, and participatory design.

Each month, I look forward to highlighting a program from Pittsburgh’s Architecture Learning Network and providing information about upcoming opportunities. These opportunities include programs open for registration as well as mentorship and teaching opportunities for local architects. This month, I will feature a program close to my heart; a program where I started as a teacher and am now the Director: Carnegie Mellon University’s Architecture Explorations program.

Students working in Carnegie Mellon University’s Saturday Sequence program.  Photo credit Samantha Weaver.

On Saturday morning, Millvale’s Sustainability Coordinator waits for students to board a bus from Millvale to Carnegie Mellon University before fitting in a little more work. Youth on Carnegie Mellon’s campus sketch, laugh and smile as they develop solutions for a community center in Millvale. Monday morning is busy as Master of Urban Design students at CMU work diligently on designs for sites included in the Millvale Ecodistrict plan.

This fall, Master of Urban Design students are leading studios for middle and high school students to design proposals for the Millvale neighborhood. The Master of Urban Design students are not only making their own proposals for Millvale, in a studio led by Professor Stefanie Danes, but they are also teaching the architecture design process to students from Millvale and across the city. Students participated in a field trip where they spoke with Millvale’s Sustainability Coordinator, Zaheen Hussain, and visited important destinations that have become sites for their design proposals.

Currently, students have completed a design charrette, drawn preliminary plans and sections, and have begun massing their designs in Rhino. Each group has a unique concept, but many have focused on adding new businesses and fresh food options.

One student shares, “We’re essentially remodeling an area that already exists; to put more things into the area they need like a grocery store. It’s more of a unified space and more condensed. We have clothing stores and places to get food so they have more local food.”

Students also understand the value of their designs, “If you have something in your community it is more accessible. And maybe with all the people buying things, it is a profit for the neighborhood. If people want to pick up an instrument you don’t have to cross a bridge.” Another student states, “When we were talking about Millvale we remembered they were missing food. We wanted to add something without taking anything away and to add fresh produce.”

The instructors, Sai Prateek Narayan Ramachandran and Sujan Das Shrestha, have been amazed by the students’ work. Sai states, “It really has been amazing teaching and getting to see the thought processes of these students. Some of them, regardless of age, are thinking about topics that some graduate students hardly consider! It really shows us that the younger generations care more about the community, sustainability, and resilience of their cities and towns.”

Through the Saturday Sequence program, students are able to see parts of the architectural design process not often provided to them in other academic settings. Sujan sees the potential for these experiences to be more integrated into formal learning environments. “In addition to natural sciences, English literature, social sciences, and mathematics, I believe that some form of design based courses should be introduced in the curriculum from the beginning. In addition to art classes that most schools might offer, having a design class where improving analytical thinking is stressed would provide an active learning environment that would help the students in the long run.”

At the end of the program, students will have drawings, virtual models, and physical models representing their final design solutions. They will present their design proposals to an audience comprised of their families, local architects, and Millvale community members. The students’ work will be part of a larger design narrative, where youth, graduate students, and professionals are working towards a greater vision for a Pittsburgh community.

Previous Architecture Explorations programs have worked with communities such as Larimer, Hill District, Wilkinsburg, and Homewood. The Architecture Explorations program is excited to continue to partner with communities and engage youth in design opportunities. Work from this program will be on display at Assemble in Garfield in May 2017 as part of the Architecture Learning Network exhibition.

For more information about ongoing Architecture Learning Network programs, visit our website: alnpgh.org.

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