Architecture shapes our environment. But studying architecture shapes how we see, understand and interpret the world. A building, a neighborhood, a city — each is the result of particular priorities, circumstances and choices.
It’s a startling realization, especially for young people, but also inspiring. Our surroundings are not merely the way they are — they are the way that people have made them to be.
Over the last 10 years, Washington University in St. Louis’ Alberti Program has introduced hundreds of kids, ranging from 8 to 15 years old, to the power and potential of architecture and design. Led by students and faculty in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts — with major support from PGAV Destinations — the tuition-free program operates year-round: as a day camp in June and on Saturday afternoons throughout the fall and spring semesters.
“Alberti adopts a way of learning by doing,” said Bruce Lindsey, dean of the Sam Fox School’s College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design. “We ask (students) to tackle difficult challenges. The world that they’ve lived in, the experience that they’ve had to date — that’s a form of knowledge. And when they realize that, it’s an empowering thing.”
Mike Konzen, chair and principal of PGAV, notes that by partnering with local schools, Alberti is able to reach students who otherwise might never consider a career in architecture.
“Design is a highly empathetic process,” said Konzen, who earned a master of architecture degree from Washington University in 1986. “The most important thing you bring as a designer to any project are your life experiences. Having a range and diversity of life experiences is hugely important.”
Earlier this year, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the AIA Office of Diversity and Inclusion selected Alberti as the 2016 honoree of the AIA Diversity Recognition Program. The award came even as both the AIA and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (the presidency of which Lindsey assumed in July) are calling on architects to take a hard look at questions of who enters the profession, who thrives within it and why.
For Konzen, the issue of diversity goes to the heart of Alberti’s mission. “It’s about creating a better pipeline,” he said. “It’s like the old saying: ‘The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago, but the second-best time is today.’
“Alberti is the tree that we’re planting.”
Additional support for the Alberti Program is provided by AIA St. Louis and The Divided City, a collaboration between the Sam Fox School and the Center for the Humanities, which is made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation. Campus Kitchens at Washington University provides snacks during the academic year. The fall session began Sept. 10 and continues through Nov. 12. The spring session will begin Jan. 28. For more information, visit samfoxschool.wustl.edu.