BY AMY MCINTOSH
Through the Open Architecture Network’s annual Open Architecture Challenge, a team of four experts from global architecture firm Gensler helped inspire local high school students to create a more effective and productive learning environment within their school. A total of 20 students from Roberto Clemente High School participated in the competition under the guidance of architectural designers Maryna Silchenko, Greg Huette and Jeff Mikolajewski and architect Sarah Brady from Gensler. Students were challenged to design a classroom that meets their specific needs. A public school located in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, Clemente has been part of the EXCELerator School Improvement Model program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, since 2007. With help from Gensler, the students worked out a new design for their architectural drafting classroom. Together, the Clemente students and Gensler team decided to use connectivity as a theme for their new room. The team worked with architecture and drafting teacher Norman Teague to brainstorm ways in which Teague’s classroom could be altered to better suit the teacher’s open-door policy. They wanted to find the best way to improve the connections between the students and the classroom, the classroom and the school and the school and the community. Ultimately, they hoped to use these connections to improve learning environments and to encourage ownership of local schools. Because a brick wall and solid metal door currently separate Teague’s classroom from the rest of the school, the students feel both visually and physically disconnected from their teacher and his classroom. To fix this problem, the team proposed building a glass case inside the wall. This would not only act as a window to give outsiders a glimpse into the classroom, but it would also serve as a case to display work done in the class so other students and faculty members would be able to see their completed projects. Similarly, the students in the class suggested hanging display boards around the school on which they could showcase their projects in an effort to get the entire school excited about architecture and drafting. The students completed surveys and photo journals and drew upon their own experiences to visualize the problems with the current classroom. Gensler’s team worked after school with the students to make their proposed solutions come to life through writing, as well as creating sketches and models of the new classroom. The group with the best design will win up to $50,000 in funding for their school.