In my experience as an architect, it is not a common occurrence to walk into a crowded room and have everyone immediately stop what they’re doing to announce and celebrate your arrival. However, every Thursday for the past four months, that is exactly the type of greeting I’ve had the pleasure of receiving when visiting Ms. Tiffani Wills’ first and second grade class at Pleasant Ridge Montessori School as a volunteer with the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati’s Design LAB: Learn and Build program. Design LAB is a semester-long, project-based learning program in which local professionals from the architecture, design and construction community partner with K-12 classrooms to help build projects, knowledge and community. So every week when I entered to the cheers of “Architect Mike is here! Architect Mike is here!”, I couldn’t help but be enthused by how excited the students are to learn, not only about architecture, but science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Each year, Design LAB (which began in 1996 as Architecture By Children) has a specific project focus, and this year’s theme of ‘Learning Spaces’ has been especially intriguing with students. This year they got the chance to imagine what learning spaces designed for today and the future might look like by creating models, drawings and writings. Their work is a product of research, discussions and inquiry into the variety of ways people experience learning. In the end, Ms. Wills’ class at Pleasant Ridge Montessori School developed three different learning environments based around Outer Space, Food and The Jungle.
Their final products will be on display along with 100+ other student projects taking part in Design LAB’s Design Fair Exhibit Week running from April 30 through May 7 at the Main Downtown Branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The Design Fair Exhibit Week will conclude with a Closing Reception that is free and open to the Public from 9am-2pm on May 7, where students will receive certificates and awards for their work. That said, the real takeaways for the students, teachers and volunteers like myself involved with Design LAB go above and beyond what any prize pack can offer.
For me, as an architect at SHP Leading Design (the firm that designed Pleasant Ridge Montessori School to become the first public K-12 school in Ohio to achieve LEED Certification), the opportunity to interact with students and teachers utilizing the flexible, collaborative spaces we aim to create has been incredibly insightful and the ultimate post-occupancy building evaluation. Seeing what works and what could work better from a teacher and student perspective has allowed me to empathize with the client on a level beyond what I had previously thought possible as an architect, and I’m excited to implement these lessons learned on future education projects within our office.
On a personal level, I like to think that participating in Design LAB has made me a more patient, engaging and fun person to be around, and I only hope that the students in Ms. Tiffani Wells’ first and second grade class at Pleasant Ridge Montessori learned as much from ‘Architect Mike’ as ‘Architect Mike’ learned from them.