Engaging the Community through Design Learning

The Center for Architecture’s K-12 Education Department takes great joy in partnering with cultural institutions both near and far as a way to deepen our engagement with communities throughout the city. This summer, we worked with two new audiences, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and Women in Need (Win), facilitating hands-on building workshops to introduce design ideas to new audiences and foster lasting partnerships.

Over the summer, the Center’s Education staff led three “Build A Geodesic Dome” family programs at MoMA, where kids and adults worked together to assemble a large, 14-foot-diameter, free-standing dome in the museum’s courtyard. Something very magical occurs when the tension and compression forces of the wooden rods and connectors of the dome pop into place and the participants are enclosed within. A hands-on activity using gumdrops and toothpicks followed this group build, allowing the participants to experiment with shapes derived from the geodesic dome and design, experiment, and build their own triangulated structures. This collaboration developed as an extension of MoMA’s exhibition, The People’s Studio: Design, Experiment, Build. For this exhibition, MoMA’s Education staff rekindled the wildly progressive and interactive work of Victor D’Amico, who made education an integral part of the museum experience from 1937 to 1969. The People’s Studio also took inspiration from activities of the avant-garde and no longer extant Black Mountain College, particularly the teachings of R. Buckminster Fuller, who is known for popularizing the geodesic dome in America. The Center for Architecture’s dome workshops were part of a slate of family programs related to the exhibition.

Our partnership with Win, the city’s largest provider of shelter for homeless families in New York City, involved the entire Center for Architecture staff in a series of hands-on design workshops for children living at one of Win’s temporary residence facilities. Over three days in late August, Catherine Teegarden, Director of K-12 Education, and many staff members volunteered their time to lead workshops on “Neighborhood Architecture,” “How Buildings Stand Up,” and “Treehouse Design” for a group of 16 elementary- and middle school-aged students. We were overwhelmed by their generosity of spirit, their knowledge of New York City architecture, and their perseverance in tackling the various design challenges they were given. Jesse Gamoran, Volunteer and Event Coordinator at Win, organizes volunteer-led activities for Win residents throughout the year: “We love bringing in volunteers to work directly with our students, because this exposes them to a variety of new ideas and shows them that the community supports them.” This partnership was initiated by current AIANY President David Piscuskas, FAIA, LEED AP, as part of an effort to encourage architects to reach out to communities in need. His firm, 1100 Architects, also provided pro-bono design services to the Win organization earlier this year. We plan to continue to work with Win through educational programs over throughout 2017 and beyond. Please be in touch with our K-12 Education Department if you are interested in joining us for future volunteer opportunities.