Building community through tiered mentorship

Project Pipeline is an award-winning architecture and design curriculum for grade school students, sponsored by the National Organization of Minority Architects. In New Orleans, what started as a four-day summer camp partnership with Tulane University has expanded into a multi-school mentorship program where design professionals work with teachers and students in classrooms to discuss, analyze, and interpret the impact of design, art, and architecture.

Recently, Project Pipeline NOLA teamed up with Tulane and AIA New Orleans to host a student design charrette at the EdSpaces convention held in New Orleans. Among an expo of educational product and service booths, a group of local high school students got a crash course in the design process as they were asked to design, build, and test cardboard chairs. Student mentors from Tulane, as well as myself and other local architects, guided the students as they experimented with forms and structures before eventually testing out their designs as part of a presentation to the expo. Tulane University documented the event with photos and a short summary.


The students from St. Augustine, led by Angelo Bagneris and Christian Octave, spent the first half of the charette coming up with ideas, then sketching and building small models with guidance from their mentors. The building of the chairs came next, and while there were challenges, Bagneris and Octave were pleased with the results.

“I liked being able to come up with an idea and work on that idea with the mentors,” Bagneris said. “And it was cool getting to share this with a large group of professionals.”


The upcoming spring 2016 semester will continue in-school design mentor programs at a handful of New Orleans schools and expand programming to schools new to Project Pipeline, utilizing 30+ local design mentors. The curriculum will introduce creative activities to students via weekly visits by mentors into classrooms. Mentors are volunteers with design backgrounds that commit to guiding students through investigations of place, diagramming neighborhoods, empathy building, conceptualizing built forms, and developing design ideas. The culmination of this series of mentored activities will be student-led presentations, intended to build confidence through research and visual expressions of community-informed design solutions.

Though Project Pipeline encourages students to consider architecture and design as powerful prospects for future careers, the program above all else provides a platform for young people to discover the tools of human-centered design and gain confidence in their abilities to understand and impact the built environment around them. As Mentor Coordinator for the Louisiana chapter of NOMA’s Project Pipeline, my task will be to encourage and support local mentors, teachers, and students as they engage the design process this coming semester. I look forward to sharing more about this educational adventure as it continues to unfold.

A few photos from the EdSpaces event:


Main image by Linda Reineke, Riverview Photography / Caption via Tulane:
Freddie Dickinson, right, a mentor for Project Pipeline and a practitioner at CTA Architecture, and Braham Berg, second from left, Tulane architecture student, guide St. Augustine High School students (from left) Darius Joseph, Christian Octave and Charles Jones through the design of a chair. After exploring joints and form through modeling, the group discussed how the ideas could be combined in terms of scale, form, joints and structure.

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