September 12, 2011
LARP Pilots Summer Youth Program in Springfield
What would you like to do for work someday? It’s a common question asked of young people everywhere, but chances are their answers won’t include responses like architect, landscape architect, or urban planner. One reason for this is that young people as a rule haven’t been introduced to people from these professions, making their knowledge of the concepts behind these professions vague, if not non-existent.
The Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning this summer aimed to correct this deficit among a group of high school students in Springfield with its pilot Video and Design Summer Program. Organized by department head Professor Elizabeth Brabec, graduate student Laura Selmani (regional planning), and Michael DiPasquale MRP ’06, an educator with UMass Extension, the program aimed to teach students the basic concepts of architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning as well as fundamental design principles. The idea was to help expose them to new or little known career choices and test their academic interest.
“By working through projects, we wanted students to see the city with new eyes, as well as gain skills that professionals in these fields use every day to design comfortable and environmentally sustainable places for people to live and work,” says Brabec. “As program leaders, Laura and Michael fully engaged themselves, working to make that happen.”
“We weren’t sure if this program would succeed,” say Selmani, “but the director of the Dunbar Community Center, John Lewis, welcomed the idea and was very helpful as we moved forward.” Selmani explained that some of the students were pushed by their families or the director to attend, but after their initial exposure to the program, they showed a real desire to learn and complete the assignments. “We were surprised by how much knowledge they picked up,” Selmani says. “Many of them are truly talented and I can see some of them as future architects or landscape architects.”
During nine half-day sessions, the program introduced students to the elements of architecture and famous architects. It covered reading maps and their elements before turning to making maps. Field trips to observe parks, streets, and architectural elements offered students inspiration to depict these elements in perspective. Discussions about what represents a city, from its elements to density and sprawl to design and watched videos covering major movements in city design resulted in building foam models of parts of Springfield. Students were also exposed to sustainability and green design.
Selmani concludes, “This program didn’t prepare the kids to be the future architects, landscape architects or urban planners, but it certainly exposed them to the value of being observers, thinkers, problem solvers, designers and artists.”