SFNOMA Summer Architecture Workshop: Lifting Career Ceilings for Diverse Youth
Posted on Wednesday, September 1, 2010 by Jim Norrena
Alum Rommel Taylor (BArch 1999) and SFNOMA instructor [photo: Jim Norrena]
SFNOMA may sound like the newest fashionable neighborhood in San Francisco, or even a new museum, but it stands for the San Francisco Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, whose first Summer Architecture Workshop 2010, targeting middle-school students, took place on CCA’s San Francisco campus July 15–17.
The two-and-a-half-day workshop was targeted at young learners who've expressed a particular interest in architecture and who have completed sixth, seventh, or eighth grades. The cost of the workshop was $30 and scholarships were available. While the aim of the workshop was to provide students with hands-on studio experience, it also specifically addressed a current shortfall of interest in architectural careers expressed by youth in under-resourced communities.
So what better place than right here at CCA to tap into a seemingly bottomless well of enthusiasm for architecture? After all, the college offers a nationally recognized and celebrated Architecture Program—one that features leading professionals as faculty and award-winning, socially conscious artists and designers as students. (See Related below).
Given access to CCA’s architectural community, which included short lectures by practicing architects, young learners witnessed the specialized skills necessary in this challenging field, including the interdisciplinarity and breadth of knowledge that is required to succeed in this field. Students were challenged to develop a small site-specific project that emphasized basic understanding of three-dimensional composition, materiality, and proportion. Projects conveyed the process of critical thinking and creative making that are required of this career.
Workshop attendees received the added benefit of flying under the wing of alum Rommel Taylor (BArch 1999), who works as a project architect and project manager for the San Francisco Department of Public Works Bureau of Architecture. Not only is Taylor a CCA alumnus but also a six-year veteran instructor of the college's Young Artist Studio Program (YASP) Architecture studio, which is aimed at middle-school learners.
In fact, once the Office of Special Programs learned of Taylor's leading the Summer Architecture Workshop, scholarships were awarded to two students to continue their studies at CCA by attending the two-week-long YASP summer program. Dean of Special Programs Nina Sadek confirmed CCA will offer similar scholarships in the future.
Architecture Workshop Team
Rommel Taylor San Francisco Department of Public Works Bureau of Architecture
Ifeoma Ebo, Architecture for Humanity
Prescott Reavis, Anshen + Allen
Tiana Robinson, U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)
Deanna Van Buren, FOURM design+build+educate
Taylor was delighted to answer questions regarding the workshop (which is intended to be expanded into a two-week intensive studio experience that covers the breadth of architectural inquiry):
Is it just a coincidence you’re an alum of CCA’s Architecture Program?
“I don’t think it is a coincidence at all.” Taylor confided. “David Meckel recruited me in 1997 to lead a team of CCA students to work with elementary school kids in the annual LEAP Sandcastle competition. I have been hooked working with young people ever since.”
Describe the level of diversity representation when you attended CCA. What’s it like now?
I do remember that CCA had a fairly robust diversity recruitment program. The Center for Art and Public Life was just coming online as I was on my way out. I have been an invited critic at various points since I graduated and cotaught two semesters with Yim Lim as part of the Diversity Studies Program.
All in all, I think CCA has been purposeful in increasing diversity in both the student population and faculty. The college is definitely headed in the right direction.
Do you see yourself as a role model to these young students?
I certainly do. I had role models as I was growing up—not directly in the field of architecture, but more in terms of encouragement to pursue my dreams. Children need positive role models, encouragement, and security in order to truly blossom. Some of us had lots of that, while other children only had one person in their life who helped guide and inspire them. I hope that some of these children will look back and say that I had some positive impact on their lives, whether they become architects or pursue other professions.
Which faculty members inspired you in terms of the work you do today?
Yim Lim has been and continues to be an incredible mentor to me. I learned that rigor without compassion is empty; architecture is not a narcissistic pursuit, but a profound service to society; and creativity has the two-fold benefit of satisfying the individual and addressing the needs of the world.
Others include Lisa Findley, who has also been a great supporter. She taught me architecture is a big profession with many ways in which I can engage it and use my skills. And Linda Yaven taught me the value and power of teaching and that creative/critical thinking is worth more than any singular artistic idea.
Last, although I never sat under his instruction, is David Meckel. At the time I attended CCA, he was the Dean of the School of Architecture, and to put it simply, he was 100 percent dedicated to helping students succeed.
Before I formally started the Architecture Program, David introduced me to Michael Willis, principal of MWA, a prominent architecture practice here in San Francisco. Michael, too, has been a source of inspiration because of his success as an architect. He also was the first African American architect I had met at the time. Not only has David supported me academically and professionally, but also he planted a seed of volunteerism and community service in my mind. I probably should name my first born son after him!
What is the greatest impediment these students face? Access? Affordability? Training?
All are factors; however, knowledge of the possibility of a career in a creative profession, other than music or acting, is the biggest issue. It is profoundly annoying to hear architecture referred to as an “alternative career option” when speaking to young persons in under-resourced communities. Architecture is a career option. Period.
As I told our students and parents at our orientation, I knew at an early age I wanted to be an architect, even without real-life role models to emulate. My image of an architect was Mike Brady from The Brady Bunch! Seriously. I liked the show as a kid and thought it was pretty cool that he designed buildings.
I didn’t know there were African American architects until I was in high school, and I had never met one until my sophomore year at CCA. Despite having neither real external references nor any confirmation architecture was a career option, I still pursued it. There is a power in seeing yourself reflected in a profession—and an even greater power in simply knowing the possibility exists.
Natural curiosity, a bit of talent, and lots of commitment is all a child needs once the possibility is evident.
How can CCA get the work out about its diversity scholarship programs?
I think collaboration with other organizations that specifically work with populations that could take advantage of the diversity scholarship opportunities offered by CCA would be an a great next step.
The NOMA, which has chapters throughout the United States, established an initiative in 2008 called Project Pipeline with the goal of proactively reaching out to young people in under-represented and under-resourced communities. Project Pipeline is an initiative established for all local chapters to implement. Each NOMA chapter is charged with developing programs for young people to engage them in the architecture profession. Partnerships with local organizations like SFNOMA and other community-based organizations would support CCA’s diversity scholarship programs.
How can CCA reach youth in under-resourced communities who are interested in other disciplines?
I think encouraging college students to look up from their desks and computers to volunteer time to mentor young people would have a major impact. Having graduated from the Architecture Program I understand the rigors of the coursework. Nevertheless, it is important to connect with and inspire the next generation.
I think CCA already has some great formal mechanisms in which students can get involved. It is a matter of the students being encouraged to do so. Developing stronger partnerships with community-based organizations to promote the Pre-College Program, Summer Atelier, and YASP would also have a significant positive impact.
Are programs such as SFNOMA making a difference?
This is the first time SFNOMA has partnered with CCA. I certainly hope this is the first in a series of ongoing future collaborations. Only time will tell if the work we are doing here will have a lasting impact on the profession. I believe it will!
Did your students appreciate the experience? Do you suspect any will pursue careers in architecture?
We had a great group of kids for our inaugural camp. I think they all had a good experience that was both challenging and fun. They were really into developing their ideas and representing them in drawings and models. A few of the students seemed to be very interested in architecture . . . but they are young, so who knows!
More importantly, I hope they become more conscientious citizens with good critical and creative thinking skills.
To view additional images, visit the CCA Snapshots page on Flickr.
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