Students Propose New Designs for Their School’s Journalism Lab

Dozens of students, parents, and visitors gathered in Room 422 of Intermediate School 392 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, last night for students’ presentations of their proposed redesign of the school’s journalism lab housed in that classroom. The design presentations were the culmination of a 15-week partnership between the school and the Center for Architecture’s Education Department funded through a grant from the Teach to Excel Foundation, a local non-profit focused on improving educational opportunities for underserved youth.

The project was developed and led by Center for Architecture Design Educator Howard Stern and IS 392 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) teacher Alise Braick, who formed an Architecture Club for 25 interested 6th – 8th grade students to tackle this real, in-school design problem. Meeting weekly with Stern and Braick, the students were introduced to the design process and the 3-D rendering program SketchUp, and worked through the program in design teams to come up with plans for reconfiguring the existing lab. Principal Ingrid Joseph set the program for the space and the project: in addition to maintaining a computer classroom space for 30 students, the room would need to be redesigned to include a student lounge area for group project work and a waiting/meeting area for the Parent Coordinator and Guidance Counselor, whose offices are adjacent to this multi-purpose space.

Students began assessing and identifying the problems with the existing layout by interviewing staff and students, and drawing on their own experiences in the space. The next several classes were spent measuring and learning how to create scaled architectural drawings of the space, and mastering the basics of SketchUp to render the room digitally. The class visited the NYC Department of Design + Construction’s offices, and met with architects who shared their designs for similar projects and led them thorough a design exercise to develop a modular chair/desk/storage design for their classroom to help them think about furnishings for the new space. Independent research by students on color theory helped them select finishes that they felt would help create a calm, productive working atmosphere. Students then worked in small teams or individually during the remaining weeks of the program to come up with their own designs and prepare their presentations, including a short video outlining their process.

Special guests at the presentation included Penda Aiken, chair of the Teach to Excel Board, and Jeff Lowell, policy analyst at the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office, which will be providing additional capital funding to help the school realize the redesign incorporating the students’ ideas. Aiken was delighted with the results of the project, her foundation’s first school-based initiative. She is eager to replicate the project in other needy schools in the area. Lowell commended the students on their work and their thorough presentations, where they explained the “why behind their design decisions,” a critical aspect of presenting new ideas to others.

A sampling of the students’ models, both digital and physical, will be on display in “Building Connections,” the annual fall exhibition of student work from our educational programs at the Center for Architecture. “”In the meantime, students in our Summer@theCenter programs will be creating their own designs for new and unique spaces, buildings, and bridges in these week-long studios from 06.20.16 – 08.26.16.  For more information on these popular programs or to register, visit our Summer@theCenter webpage.