NOMA blog
Project Pipeline Summer Camp
June 02, 2012

Project Pipeline provides an opportunity to educate middle school youth about the process and impact of architectural design, with a focus on African American students. The program is designed and taught by local NOMA African American architects. The intensive day camp program introduces the students to site investigation, principles of design, scaled drawings, model making, critical thinking skills and presentation skills.

The Idea of the Project Pipeline was born in 2005 the NOMA Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by then NOMA President Paul Taylor and AIA President Robert Smith. The first camp was held in 2006 by the NW Ohio Chapter and was coordinated by David Kirk and Micheale Pride.

Project Pipeline has conducted camps in Los Angeles, CA, San Francisco, CA, Cincinnati, OH and Philadelphia, PA. Each camp location creates its design project which focuses on fostering greater connection with the local community. The camps provide multi generational mentorship as the programs combine NOMA professional and student members to provide the instructors for the camps.

Project Pipeline is starting to erode one of the biggest issues for African American students not entering the architecture profession; not having an early exposure to the field of architecture. Currently African American architects make up only 1.5% of all licensed architects. The camps are designed to teach the basics of architectural design, inclusive of mapping, site investigation, sketching, scaled drawings, model making, sustainablity and presentation skills. At the completion of the camp each youth will have a stronger understanding of how to be engaged and active in the positive changes of the built environment in their communities as well as a greater understanding of what architects' skills and roles are. The ultimate goal is to have the students go onto college as architecture majors and increase the number of African American licensed architects.

After a false start in 2009, Los Angeles NOMA (LANOMA) held its first Architecture Camp in 2010. This was a first endeavor of this kind for the LANOMA. Sure, we have participated in other architecture themed programs for young adults but LANOMA had not organized one ourselves. The concept and goal of the Camp was straightforward, as one would expect as with other programs- expose young adults to architecture. The premise was to catch them earlier in their school years. It took the steady planning of five core people about nine months to pull the Camp off. What would be the project for the campers? What would the content and form of the handbook be? Where would the Camp be held? Where would the funds come from?

One of the questions was marked “checked” early on in the planning stages when Steve Lewis, president of NOMA connected with Tim Watkins, director of WLCAC (Watts Labor Community and Action Committee) and arranged for the Camp to be held there at WLCAC in south Los Angeles in the heart of Watts. Sure there may be a few architecturally significant buildings in this part of Los Angeles but I could not name any except for the Watts Towers art sculpture which I had never visited until my search in planning the walking tour for the camp program. For two Saturdays, in an art studio- like setting Los Angeles NOMA began to expose 19 African American campers ranging in ages from 12 to 17 and their parents to architecture as a possible profession.

These kids were in our care from 8am to 4pm. We arranged for food in the morning and lunch at noon. We provided supplies on a skinny budget. With 2 Instructors per group and four groups of about four Campers each, the Campers engaged in presentations each day; on the first day a quiz game and a neighborhood walking tour; drawing a floor plan of their imaginative room; building a model out of cardboard and various materials and in the end presenting to the group and their parents each of their models. The Campers seemed to catch on to concepts, architectural scale and representation so effortlessly as we presented the information in a manner as a means to an end. After all we only had two days and there had to be a product produced in the end for each Camper. The Campers pulled it off! And we made it happen.

I can’t speak for all the NOMA participants, however having been one of organizers and an Instructor my overall sentiment was of duty done. We had accomplished it. The Camp was over and I also had a masochistic yearning to start planning the next Camp. There was enthusiasm. I was encouraged when Campers so gladly and eloquently voiced their appreciation for the Camp on that last day. Had we made an impact?

Over the last year San Francisco NOMA (SFNOMA) has worked on several projects educating youth about the thought method behind producing quality design. This past July was the first program SFNOMA conducted without any partnerships. To adhere with the idea of introducing minority youth to architectural process we designed our camp to focus on grades 6-8, we felt it was important to embed the idea of architecture as a college major prior to students entering High School. The main planning team for the camp consistent of three individuals: Deanna Van Buren, Rommel Taylor and Prescott Reavis.

We wanted to create an experience for the participants which focused on ownership and design control of a project. Most young people understand the idea of selling and buying products, an urban kiosk was decided as the design problem. Small, yet content rich possibilities existed with this type of project and allowed the planning team flexibility for site location, as early on we did not have location established for the camp. At the end of May we were able to secure two architecture studio spaces on the San Francisco Campus of the California College of Arts (CCA).

We decided a weeklong camp was too much to handle as a first go-around and decided a two day weekend camp would be the best option. The planning team immediately started to market the Camp throughout the Bay Area; we sent information to the public school districts, recreation centers and affiliated youth programs in the arts in San Francisco & Oakland. We initially had a very slow response, however inquiries picked up as we moved closer to the camp date. We were all very excited the Friday evening during the meet and great session.

At the intro night we had a brief introduction of SFNOMA by our SFNOMA President Rod Henmi; we then had presentation by two SFNOMA members Yaku Askew and Katherine Williams. After the presentations we split the group into parents and students. We asked all the students why they were here and what they were hoping to learn. Several had experience in other design type camps and several noted their parents thought it would be good for them to be exposed to how architects work. We then handed out to each student their own sketch pad and pen. All the students were excited about their gift, which quickly turned to shock as we explained to them they had an assignment for the evening. Their assignment was to create a sketch and or plan of their dream room. We briefly explained the basic of a plan and different sketches styles and afterwards all the students dove right into sketching.

The following Saturday morning the group of ten students started arriving around 8am, we got right into having each student present their dream room. The student’s approaches and ideas were very in depth and detailed; one student really thought fully about his environment and even had a certain smell to allow him to be in the best mood possible while in his room. Other students thought about lighting, access and views to nature, the integration of technology and materiality of their rooms. After the group discussion we moved right into a lesson about scale, Rommel gave an excellent lesson about scale and how it is used in architecture. The students then had to draw a small studio space in 1”=1’-0” scale. All of the students were able to grasp the concept of using scale quite well.

Next we explained the design problem; we took the students on a tour of the site where their kiosk would be located. The site was located adjacent to CCA and a recently converted traffic intersection into a urban plaza, while at the site Ifeoma Ebo explained to students what issues and opportunities they should be thinking about for locating their kiosk. The student took photographs, created sketches of the site, noted views, approaches and environmental conditions. After a group discussion it was decided the students wanted to work in teams on their project ideas. The students spent the first half of the afternoon brain storming their business idea and then we had a group presentation and each group presented their idea. Each team was vigorously queried about their ideas by the other students; it reminded me of studio crit. Then students begin to start to finalize their drawings and begin their models, which continued until the end of the day.

Saturday the students arrived with an intense look in their eyes as they all knew they had a lot of work to complete by the end of the day. We explained to the students that they needed to finish their drawings by morning break so they could concentrate on their models for the rest of the day. Most groups finished their drawings in the morning. After lunch the students were profoundly working to make sure they had a quality model which truly represented their vision. Deanna Van Buren was instrumental in helping each team to develop and refine their models. In the true spirit of studio, as teams began to finish, they started to assist other teams who had yet to complete their work. Around 4pm we stopped the teams and we had them practice their presentation prior to the big show. The students spoke very eloquently and passionately about their projects to a group of 50+ parents and SFNOMA members and supporters. Several of the parents noted how impressed they were with all the groups and the quality of design ideas they came up with. One particular parent was delighted to see the students integrate sustainability in not only their design but also in the products the sold in their kiosk.

Overall the entire group was very happy with what they learned and accomplished in only two days. All the instructors were impressed with quality of work and connection each student had with their design. We were told by all students how much fun they had learning about architecture and how the wanted more opportunities to learn about design and become more aware of the space around them. I think we have a couple of future architects in group……the pipeline is growing.

Authors:  Yvette Henry (LANOMA) and Prescott Reavis (SFNOMA)