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Building Aspirations

Building Aspirations

After getting a taste for the field through the Great Gumdrop Pasta Tower Challenge, local high school students participating in the Rhode Island ACE Mentor Program are continuing to learn about space, scale, planning and building. A national organization focused on Architecture, Construction and Engineering, ACE works to engage teenagers with an interest in pursuing careers related to the construction industry and help them get there through scholarships and grants.

In addition to providing hands-on learning, “the fundamental goal is to provide one-on-one mentoring for inner-city kids who need it,” says Architecture Professor Jim Barnes BArch 69, who has spearheaded and designed ACE programs in Rhode Island since 2007. Now that the current class of 15 first-year participants is nearing the end of the 18-week, after-school program, students are working in teams in RISD’s Bayard Ewing Building to create final projects with the help of their mentors: graduate students in Architecture and local professionals.

“They’re working on designs for a three-story row house with a commercial space on the ground floor,” says Barnes. “But again, the project is really more of a vehicle for stimulating dialogue.”

“Learning to draft and draw takes time,” adds mentor/architect Ian Manize. “Our objective is to teach the kids to think a project through. Always try at least a couple of ideas,” he advises the student at his side, suggesting he sketch a few more options.

Students at another table have decided to add a bookstore café on the first floor of the row house they’re designing and are grappling with options for situating the entrance and stairs. “We can create a side entry, but if we want to move the stairs,” cautions mentor Gena Farkas MArch 16, “we need to make sure we have room on all three levels.”

In the Architecture department’s CAD Lab, other ACE students are learning how to convert their drawings into digital renderings using basic 3D modeling programs such as SketchUp. They’ll use the resulting images to create large display boards for upcoming project presentations.

“In a couple of weeks they’ll be presenting their work to their parents and to another ACE group that meets in [the neighboring city of] Pawtucket,” says Barnes. “Each student in the group is required to do part of the presentation, which adds a public speaking component to the program.”

Next year the teenagers in Barnes’ program will move on to a class taught by his former student Tami Hughes BArch 02, who works at the Providence-based firm Durkee, Brown, Viveiros & Werenfels Architects. “The older kids have the opportunity to compete in a nationwide competition,” says Barnes. “In 2013 a group of students from the Pawtucket group traveled to Washington, DC to present their projects and ended up winning third place. It was awesome!”

Simone Solondz

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