High School Students Explore Design at the BAC

Summer Academy students observe and envision Boston in new ways

Students experience their first design review

Students experience their first design review; Photo by Molly Chase

The BAC recently bid farewell to its 2015 group of Summer Academy students, who spent four weeks on campus and throughout Boston exploring architecture and design. The participants, high school students entering grades 10 and above, spent the past month building fundamental design and critical thinking skills through sketching, creating models, mapping, presenting, and working together in teams. At the end of the program, students had worked with new materials and discovered new ways of observing and envisioning the world around them, using Boston as their urban laboratory.

"One of the program's goals is to challenge students to solve engaging problems," said Summer Academy Director Henry Miller. "If we can help the students develop critical thinking through solving problems in a creative way, then we have given them something that will translate across disciplines. Not everyone who attends Summer Academy will be an architect or designer, but whatever they do, they will now have the skills to work their way through a challenge."

The students participate in a wide variety of activities and projects during their time in the city, each week sharpening a new set of design skills. They explore Boston's neighborhoods and make observations through sketches and models, perform a mapping exercise, and build models, all while considering the comfort and functionality of spaces for guests, residents, and passers-by. The students even undergo their first series of design reviews from guest reviewers—the first review session of many more to come if they decide to pursue a career in architecture and design.

"Summer Academy exceeded all of my expectations," said Priya Skelly, who is currently a student at Needham High School. "It was great working with such a diverse group of people. There was a mix of international and local students, who all came from very different backgrounds and brought new perspectives. As for the instructors, they were extremely supportive and truly related to all of the design challenges we came across."

These instructors led small groups throughout the program, where students had the opportunity to work together in teams and independently. For the final week, the students were segmented into studios of their choosing. In their studios, students touched a wide array of skills, including how to use robots to produce models, how to build a topography and learn about the landscape, and how to use design software and improve hand skills. With studio topics ranging from Guerrilla Architecture to Spatial Poetry, all challenging students to take risks and consider user experience when improving a space. 

Guerrilla Architecture, co-taught by instructor Eli Keller, tasked students with implementing a temporary intervention in a neglected area. In this case, the neglected space was the area behind the Hynes Convention Center MBTA stop, where one can see there used to be another entrance to the station, but is now abandoned and overgrown with weeds.

"We didn't inflict too many rules upon the students for the Guerrilla Architecture studio," explained Eli, who is currently studying at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. "The project is about making an unnoticed space noticeable, using specific materials to envision a way to improve a space in a temporary way, almost like an art installation."

Students used cardboard, paper, wood, glue, markers, and cutouts from magazines to tackle the design challenge of making the neglected area more appealing.

"The studio is all about reimagining what you would expect," Sasha Paul, a student from Newton County Day School of Sacred Heart, described. "The purpose of the exercise is to be creative and sustainable, and change both the look and feel of an underutilized space."

Sasha, along with her peers in the Guerrilla Architecture studio and others created models to represent their design ideas. The finished products ended up full of bright colors, interesting shapes, and inspiring additions that would improve the area of Boston they were considering. The students ended their four weeks with a product they could be proud of, created using the tools and skills they learned throughout the program.

"I didn't know what to expect when I started the program, since I had never done anything like this before," Lavinia Remy, a rising junior at Dominion High School in Virginia. "I had some ideas of what architecture would be like, and as it turned out, architecture and design are everything I had envisioned, and that's a really good thing."