Design LAB: From an Overlooked Email to a Prize-Winning Finish

Ashley Weneck

To be completely honest, when the emails first circulated around the SHP office asking for volunteers for the Architectural Foundation’s Design LAB, I didn’t spend too much time reading them. It’s not that I didn’t think it was interesting, but I am not a designer and there was no way I was qualified to help students build a three-dimensional model of a dwelling.

It was only after I saw another email that listed the schools involved that I really started to think about what my role could be with this project. As an alumna of Milford Exempted Village Schools who still lives in the area, I realized that Design LAB could have a great impact on the students in my community.

I took a leap of faith, signed up as a volunteer and now I don’t regret it for a second.

Some Uneasy Moments

Since I am a construction administrator, I assumed that I would be paired with a designer as well. It turns out I was wrong. Instead, I joined forces with Ms. Renee Angelo, the eighth grade ecology teacher at Milford Junior High, to help 15 students come up with ideas for building dwellings.

We had our guidelines from the Architectural Foundation, but this was also an ecology class, so we really wanted the students to incorporate lessons on eco-friendly design and sustainability into their projects.

To be honest, I was worried how junior high students would react to a project of this magnitude. When we presented that first day, I was relieved that they asked a number of questions, but I wasn’t sure how excited they were to dive in.

Building Momentum

As you would expect with teenagers, once we got past the informational stage, the building process changed everything. It was like we had instantly created 15 new architects.

They lit up when a new idea came to mind. The students bounced plans off each other, creating unique solutions to their problems.

Since the students were in an ecology class, they were in charge of the school’s recycling program. Every week they’d search the bins looking for materials they could use. Cardboard boxes became walls. Toilet paper rolls and Popsicle sticks provided structure. Even a green carpet sample from an SHP vendor found a role as the sustainable green roof.

The students thought of everything. One design featured a barrel to collect the rain runoff from the roof. Another incorporated solar panels to save on electricity costs. There was even a clear dome to heat one house, made from a Dollar Store salad bowl turned upside-down.

An Award-Winning Finish

 

Design LAB culminated with the final projects being displayed at the Cincinnati Public Library. We were thrilled when the judges chose one of my class’s projects as the award winner in the “Solution Builder” category. It was a well-deserved honor for the students who worked so hard on these houses for the past four months.

It may sound cliché, but speaking for my colleagues and the other Design LAB volunteers, I think the prize wasn’t just judges acknowledging our work, but something much greater. We had the opportunity to work with our future architects and engineers. We saw them work through problems and create unique solutions, using only the resources at hand. We were able to share our passion for architecture and design with a new audience.

Next year, I can guarantee I won’t glance over the first email asking for volunteers.

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