December 18, 2009
  AIA/AIAS Legacy Brings Design Mentors to the New Design High School in New York
Giving back is the name of the game

by Kathryn Scotten

Summary: Don’t listen to people who say you can’t follow your passion. Don’t select yourself out. Build your own support network if you have to. Remember that it’s all just a test of your motivation.

That was the core of the advice New Design High School students received in a roundtable discussion at the end of the first day of the Committee on Architecture for Education Fall Conference in New York City.

The wide-ranging, 90-minute conversation was one of the AIA’s Legacy Events. The AIA is working with the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) to give something back to the cities they visit by promoting team building and fostering volunteer commitment. The goal is to create a lasting memory for architects, architectural students and the general public.

During the event on October 23, six young New York architects talked with five teenagers about everything from architectural terms, Le Corbusier, diversity to architecture school (there will be math—get over it).

The architects shared not only their passion for their chosen profession, but also the different roads they traveled to get there. And they listened: to the bright-eyed, articulate junior whose sixth-grade teacher told her she’d never finish elementary school, and to the wistful senior who said, “My dad, the word ‘college’ doesn’t even come out of his mouth. He’s like—‘Go get a job.’”

Some of the architects had faced similar obstacles: lack of support at home, lack of encouragement at school, lack of resources, lack of role models. At the end, as the architects passed out business cards, one of these new role models said, “The support we offer is genuine because we’re where you want to be—and we’ve been where you are.”

New Design High School is one of five small schools that now occupy a 1916 high school building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A college-preparatory school, it uses design as the conceptual framework for a holistic approach to supporting the academic, intellectual, social, emotional, and artistic development of adolescents.

New Design teacher Corey Willis identified a number of ways the architecture community could support the school’s program. Willis said they welcome visiting designers and artists and encourage them to spend the day. They need professionals to work one-on-one with students in the school’s design portfolio workshop.

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