Back to School with Arch Camp

Thank you for inviting me, spending the day answering questions and showing me opportunities within architecture that I didn’t even think about…I am so happy that I was a part of this workshop.

Tatum     /     Participant

Back to School with Arch Camp

Our Arch Camp program is still going strong in its fourth year! Produced and designed by our DEI+I (Diversity Equity Inclusion + Impact) group, Arch Camp is a hands-on introduction to the field of architecture and design for local high school students. The program was developed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement with the goal of focusing on students from historically underrepresented groups (HUGs) within our local community – to show them that they belong in the Architecture field. Rolled out during the pandemic, this year’s program was our first opportunity for an in-person Arch Camp.

We sat down with some of the Arch Camp leaders, Parvathy Nair, Tristan Blackmore and Phoebe Lam, for feedback:

What were our goals for Arch Camp this year?

Phoebe Lam (PL): To expose our industry to a more diverse set of students and generate a more diverse pipeline into the field of architecture. We also took time to reflect on previous years and evaluate whether our programming has been effective. We learned not to push so much info at the beginning of the session – that it’s about increasing engagement, excitement, and participation. We switched to a single day workshop this year with multiple components, including hands-on activities, a Q&A panel, an office tour and incorporated technology like VR. The day’s rhythm is varied enough to keep the students actively engaged.

Tristan Blackmore (TB): Another goal was to make these activities as fun as possible. We kept things simple and brought a sense of humor!

Parvathy Nair (PN): Our overall purpose is still consistent, though – to enable a more diverse set of people to apply for architecture school and show them they belong.

What were some of the highlights?

PN: Watching the students present their ideas after each exercise. They were so creative and thoughtful and had so much passion.

TB: Seeing that engaged glint in their eyes. As an instructor, it’s magical to know someone is listening and absorbing. I could tell they were processing when they responded with thoughtful, complex questions. I was excited to try and answer them.

What were some of the challenges?

PN: Teaching is one of the hardest things because you never know where the students are coming from or expecting. You need to be adaptive and keep people engaged with multiple skill levels. Being a good role model and leading by example is also important.

PL: Our appreciation for teachers went up 50-fold.

Why do you participate?

TB: I want to see as many people as possible with a diversity of experience open to the idea of practicing architecture. It’s important that they know they can do this. Everyone can and should express themselves. Architecture is an essential avenue for expression because it’s shared, collaborative and collective, and a benefit to humanity. It’s a special profession.

PL: I wish I had had this exposure when I was younger. This would have given me a head start in the field. I love introducing people to it. We benefit from their energy, and their excitement.

We also learned a lot from hosting the program. We learned to communicate better, pivot and be nimble, because it’s what is required of us from those who don’t speak our design language. Our DEI+I group comprises people who don’t normally work with each other – this broadens our ability to work across departments.

What excites you about the program next year?

PL: We’re hoping to increase our student count. We’d also like to have them sit in on design crits [critiques]. Crits teach you how to communicate and think critically – what is the design trying to address, and what problems need to be solved. The architecture practice is about people and the spaces they inhabit and interact with. It’s about the collaborative, iterative process, taking feedback and thinking about design as an exercise, not just the final project.

How can I participate?

If you would like to participate next year, please contact us through our Arch Camp page and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for updates. We hold the event each summer and begin the recruiting process towards the end of the school year. We hope you will join us!

By Wendy Osaki

Contributors: Tristan Blackmore, Phoebe Lam, Sarah Mergy, Parvathy Nair

WDA Arch Camp Presenters and Moderators: Ashish Bhandari, Tristan Blackmore, Michelle Chew, Alli Foronda, Dustin Foster, Phoebe Lam, Parvathy Nair, David K. Plotkin