Learning By Design:NY Students Design and Build a Rooftop Village


Students at the New Design High School build their Rooftop Design Village.

Tim Hayduk

Over the past three years, students at New Design High School in partnership with Learning By Design:NY (LBD:NY) have been designing and building Rooftop Design Village. This on-going, student-driven project currently consists of a wood shop as well as a greenhouse and deck that are close to completion.Future plans include building planters and a food kiosk for community events. Rooftop Design Village is a hands-on learning experience that adds a real-world component to the New Design curriculum.

Rooftop Design Village is a hands-on learning experience that adds a real-world component to the New Design curriculum. LBD:NY residencies often introduce architecture to students unfamiliar with design concepts, but these students are experienced. At New Design High School, class assignments include everything from designing and building a catapult to experimenting with lighting and furniture. According to LBD:NY educator Erik Ratkowski, what sets the Rooftop Design Village apart from other assignments is the large-scale and long-term nature of the project. Such projects require students to be persistent in their problem solving and patient in achieving results.

Many students across all four grades have worked in teams on small aspects of the overall project. “Students surprised themselves by being able to do something that they wouldn’t have known they could do,” said Ratkowski, who works with design teacher Brian Lentini. Ratkowski and Lentini teach kids technical and problem solving skills. Students begin the construction phase by learning how to hold a hammer and use a drill, then use these skills to solve open-ended problems. When the wind threatened to blow the roof off of the greenhouse, it was a student who devised how to secure it in a new way.

Design-build projects such as this show students their capabilities and introduce them to new fields. Scott Conti, principal at New Design High School, believes that “Learning By Design:NY is a doorway into professions that low-income, urban kids normally can’t get into — architecture, urban planning, graphic design. Our idea at New Design is to use programs like Learning By Design:NY to be transformative in these kids lives.” New Design High School wants to continue to ask students to design and build structures for the rooftop village project in the years to come.

If you would like to help support the Rooftop Design Village or donate your time to this Learning By Design:NY residency, please contact Tim Hayduk at thayduk@cfafounfation.org.

The Center for Architecture Foundation (CFAF) thanks Cornucopia Project, Loud and Public, and Open Road for being instrumental in bringing together knowledge, resources, and enthusiasm to the project. Also a special thank you to Jason Spodek of City Lumber who donated all of the building materials that will make this project a built reality. The CFAF is very grateful to have received funding from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.