A Visit to YouthBuild Boston’s Designery

I was honored to attend YouthBuild Boston’s Designery Open House event in December. The Designery program provides a space for high school students from the Boston area, ages 14-18, to learn about urban architecture while experiencing several facets of what it means to be a professional in today’s working world. Students enroll in the program and become “Intern Designers.” These designers are tasked with creating something that will benefit the community using what they learn while in the program.

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The Open House presented the community with an opportunity to see just what goes on behind the Designery walls. I was awestruck by all of the student’s work on display. There were models of tiny homes with detailed floor plans and written explanations about the concepts behind each of them. Blueprints of different objects covered the walls, and dust and wood shavings sprinkled on the floor—proving that the students do in fact get their hands dirty.

As Intern Designers, students must take learning into their own hands. Students work on different projects from week to week. With each project, the students are pushed a little further creatively and are forced to think of new and unique ways of finding solutions to community problems. A perfect example is the tiny home project, where the students had to come up with ideas for a “green” home that is also exceptionally small (sometimes as small as 150 square feet), creating more space for an ever-growing population. It also needed to capture two major elements (e.g. private versus public), meshing them together to create a functional and environmentally friendly house. One Intern Designer, Andre, described his experience of building the tiny home model as a chance to “think outside the box, but inside the circle of reality.”

Research is an integral part of the design process—once given a task, students have to find out the specifics. For example, the students built a lectern to present their projects to community members and their families; before constructing the lectern, students had to research what a lectern was and then determine how to make it lightweight and portable, as well as multifunctional. Though there is an instructor to help lead the way, the students ultimately decide how each project will come to life.

Intern Designer, Anthony, said, “One thing I’ve definitely gotten out of being at the Designery is becoming more adept in utilizing the creative process. For example, we were tasked to come up with abstract ideas for the lectern project. I’m not the most creative person, but participating in this program really helped me in terms of my creativity and expanding my skill set.” Students receive a stipend for their hard work and are held accountable for their behavior, including tardiness and temperament, just as they would be in the workplace. The learning experience is hands-on, allowing each student to excel creatively and develop miniature and full-scale models for display and pieces for actual use.

Going into the Designery, I thought I’d see some pretty neat woodwork and hear some interesting stories regarding the inspiration for their work—what I ended up seeing and learning was so much more! The students opened up about how great it felt knowing that everything they built at the Designery was for the greater purpose of helping the community. They also shared that being a part of the Designery was contributing to their personal growth, more positive outlooks on life, and defining overall goals for the future. Camilla, a student in the program, said, “I feel like with the Designery and the interactive field trips to firms and other places, it really opens your eyes to be like, ‘Wow, I could really be doing this in a matter of 10 years, so you start to think about your future more, putting in the work, starting the process now, and trying to expand up your skill set, so that you can succeed in the future.”

Being at the Designery and seeing what the youth can do for the community when given the opportunity was exciting and invigorating. Education with a purpose clearly allows young people to blossom. Though the students’ projects were quite impressive, hearing the passion in their voice and seeing the architectural sparkle in their eyes was the best part of the event.

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