Earlier this month, the University of Chicago Arts Incubator invited me to lead an architecture and urban design workshop for teen arts leaders from throughout the city. Teenagers are mind-blowing.
We started with a lively conversation about the City of Chicago’s game-changing Large Lots program: an initiative in underpopulated neighborhoods where the city sells vacant lots for $1, exclusively to people who own property on the same block. We took a look at the existing amenities in contrast with the available lots in Washington Park, where the Arts Incubator is located. Most students were new to urban design. Energized, they immediately had strong intuitions about how to leverage this city program for social impact.
“I’m excited because we’ve never done anything like this before… ”
-Kayla, George Westinghouse College Prep
After generating creative entrepreneurship ideas for the neighborhood, we zoomed in to experiment with architecture. Each student deployed a design intervention on a vacant lot. Through basic paper modelling techniques, we explored architectural form, challenged spatial constraints, and stimulated community vibrancy. Lining up our newly populated lots into a “dream block” at the end of the workshop hit home for me: urban regeneration can be as simple as realizing the ambitions of unbridled youth.
I loved teaching this short architecture blitz. As much as I enjoyed working as a T.A. in college and grad school, teaching in academia over the course of a semester has a very different ebb and flow than a fun afternoon workshop. This was my first time working with teens. This spring, I’m looking to get involved as a visiting artist with the Teen Creative Agency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. As someone who learned about careers in design a bit later in my education than I would’ve liked, the mentors I’ve encountered have been transformative. Architecture as an industry is in such dire need of more diverse, young makers. I want transparency. However small of an impact this one afternoon may have had, it energized my own efforts to nurture inclusion in professional culture.
Images by: UChicago staff and young Chicago photographer Mikayla Delson
Here’s a great video about the full day of workshops, put together by UChicago: