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Playing for the Future in Allegheny West

Students and Collaborative volunteers at one of last summer's weekly design sessions

Making a project model from bottles, a Styrofoam cup, and a ballet shoe. Drawing a vision and spending the following week “getting real.” And designing and building a mobile mini-lounge. These are just some of the things that students in Allegheny West got to do through “Playing for the Future,” a youth design education and design/build project led by the Community Design Collaborative as part of its Design Grant Program

The Allegheny West project contributed to the recent reboot of the Architecture in Education (AIE) Program by AIA Philadelphia. Heidi Segall Levy, AIA, director of design services for the Community Design Collaborative, says, “Our volunteers had the opportunity to test the updated version of the AIE curriculum as they created their lesson plans.”

Michael Spain, Assoc. AIA, is co-chair of the Architecture in Education Committee along with Elizabeth Class-Maldonado. eHe He also participated in the project. “I’d been an in-class instructor in the past. But I needed to experience a contemporary classroom. I taught at Adair Elementary School last spring. Then I volunteered on the Allegheny West project to see how the new AIE model could be used in partnership with the Collaborative.”

During the summer, high school students from Allegheny West Foundation’s (AWF) summer program met weekly with Collaborative volunteers from KieranTimberlake to re-envision the Peirce Elementary schoolyard. The volunteers took their cue from the AIE curriculum, using experiential learning to take them through the design process. “Design education can have a big impact on students,” says Spain. “Students really see how the process of design can help them solve a problem. For me, the best thing is seeing those moments when they are fully engaged when they haven’t been before.”

Design education can have a big impact on students. They really see how the process of design can help them solve a problem. The best thing is seeing those moments when they are fully engaged when they haven’t been before.  
 

Michael Spain, Assoc. AIA

The lounge pod gets a test run before moving to the 22nd Street Commercial Corridor

In the fall, middle and high school students from AWF’s after school program built upon the work done in the summer and collaborated on a design/build project for the Allegheny West community. Jeffrey Brummer, who led this project for the Collaborative, says, “We started with a vision exercise to get the students thinking about spaces where they felt safe and joyful. From there, they divided into small groups to develop spaces based on their responses. The students presented the concepts and we discussed how the designs fit with their initial visions. We worked together to find common themes and that became the basis for the Lounge Pod design.”

The Pod breaks down into two pieces for easy relocation. It has a drop-down work table and booth-style seating. The students assembled the prefabricated pieces on-site and finished the structure with a fabric canopy, paint, LED lights, hanging plant pots, and chalkboard paint for games and messages. “The Lounge Pod allowed the students to design and build a product that will benefit other kids,” says Brummer. “It gave them an awareness of how they can impact their community with their creation.

The Lounge Pod allowed the students to design and build a product that will benefit other kids. It gave them an awareness of how they can impact their community with their creation.

 

Jeffrey Brummer, AIA

“The Collaborative has incorporated the AIE program into its design grants before,” says Segall Levy. “We’ve had students contribute their ideas to conceptual designs for the former Leidy Elementary School, Starfinder Foundation, AMY Northwest Middle School, and in a previous project with the Allegheny West Foundation.” She adds, “Allegheny West’s “Playing for the Future” project broke new ground. This is the first time we introduced a design/build project into our work with students.”

This article orginally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of AIA Philadelphia's CONTEXT magazine. 

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