1,500 local students learn architecture, construction basics through Design LAB program


Over the past four months, 1,500 students in 78 Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky schools have studied the basics of architecture and construction while designing a model dwelling. Their work is part of the 2015 Design LAB (Learn and Build), a program of the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati (AFC) in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects of Cincinnati (AIA), and is on display at the Main Public Library downtown through May 2.
 
“Design LAB encourages innovation by fully engaging students in the design process, broadening their perspective and asking questions that enable them to actively participate in the built environment,” says AFC Education Director Catrina Kolshorn. “With a focus on real world solutions, students develop and create unique approaches to a design challenge utilizing research, critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression and visual/verbal communication.
 
“As students create and model their projects, they build an awareness, knowledge and sense of community through sharing their ideas, gaining an appreciation of the built environment and understanding the interactive role they can play in shaping it.”
 
The Design LAB program is intended to adapt to many subject areas and grade levels. Participants this year include all grade levels in K-12 classes on architecture, art, biology, ecology, engineering, geometry, language arts, science and social studies.
 
The 2015 theme of “Dwelling” gave students the option of a rural or urban site to design a home for their chosen client. Each teacher shaped the project and client selection to fit with their class curriculum. Students have chosen Greek clients based on their study of The Odyssey as well as Maya Angelou, Picasso and Dr. Seuss, among many others.
 
Students typically work in teams to create a model and a tri-fold panel display that illustrates their design process. AFC expects at least 175 submissions for the Design Fair, where entries will be judged on both the model and the display.
 
Four awards will be given in each grade category: Build-Ability for the projects most able to be constructed in the real world; Sustain-a-Builder to the projects using the best green building technologies; Solution Builder to projects showing the most innovation and creativity in meeting the client's needs; and a Juror’s Choice award. The 30 jurors, as well as the 65 classroom mentors, are all volunteers.
 
Design LAB is a revamped version of Architecture by Children (ABC).
 
“The new name reflects the emphasis on design as well as the learning and building of the hands-on, project-based program,” says AFC Executive Director Kit Anderson.
 
ABC was managed by AIA Cincinnati volunteers for nearly 20 years.
 
“Over the last few years AFC has become increasingly involved as a collaborator and partner in the program and has been the primary financial sponsor of ABC for some time,” Anderson says. “As the program continued, it became clear that in order for it to grow and strengthen it required much more time and attention than a volunteer group could give it. We all agreed that AFC would manage, fund and implement the program in association with AIA Cincinnati.”
 
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit entity, the foundation was able to seek regional and national grants that ABC was previously ineligible for, increasing opportunities for professionalization and future growth. These changes are already generating results, with a grant from the Stillson Foundation supporting the 2015 program. Design LAB is also funded by contributions from the built environment community and AFC’s annual Apple Award Gala.
 
Those donations also provided the resources for AFC to hire Kolshorn to manage the program, recruit new participants and coordinate the many volunteers who work in-classroom with the students and as judges for the Design Fair.
 
The 2015 Design LAB Design Fair will be displayed in the first floor atrium at the Main Public Library all week, ending with a public reception recognizing program participants 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, May 2.
 

Read more articles by Julie Carpenter.

Julie Carpenter is a jack-of-all-trades with a background in cultural heritage tourism, museums and nonprofit organizations. She's a bit obsessed with the built environment and irregularly shares her musings on architecture, urban planning and city life on Facebook and Twitter (@StrawStickBrick).
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