Recently WHSAD students worked with Brooklyn Prep (BP), and Williamsburg Prep (WP) in remodeling the Harry Van Arsdale cafeteria. The 40 minutes a day the students at these schools spend in this space is vitally important to their productivity the rest of the day. Creating a space where kids feel comfortable to socialize and relax can help them focus more in afternoon classes, meaning if the environment feels stressful, or uncomfortable, the students will probably feel the same. This was exactly the problem the old cafeteria had: it didn’t feel friendly or inviting. But that’s all changed now. What were once white walls and rectangular folding tables, now are booths, posters, and a much more diverse collection of tables. This lunch room has come a long way from what it once was through much planning, hard work, and communication.
The first step to this year-long project was to figure out the problem, being that the cafeteria was not a pleasant place to eat, or at least it wasn’t living up to its potential. All of the tables looked exactly the same, and the walls were completely blank. “I always disliked going to the cafeteria because it smelled so bad and it felt so dull and depressing. The colors were boring, the windows were tiny and you can’t even see through them because they were so high up, and there weren’t a lot of places to sit” said Xochitl Rodriguez, WHSAD Senior, Redesign Team Captain.
There just wasn’t anything to it. From here students from their respective schools started collaborating to get a rough idea of how they wanted the cafeteria to look. They drew inspiration from restaurants or cafes they go to regularly, and decided, after some debate, they wanted to go for a kind of diner aesthetic in the redesign. They created mood boards, looked at photos on the internet, and decided on the tables and art they wanted. Between all this there was a lot of communication between the principals as well as people from the companies they ordered the tables from. These conversations helped clarify for the students of what could and could not be done. Eventually they started creating floor plans, which was a process that included even more obstacles than the previous steps. The most difficult part was fitting the minimum capacity into the floor plan. There was a requirement that at least 320 kids had to have a seat in the cafeteria, which took a lot of back and forth on which tables should be included, and how many of them there should be. Along with that teamwork is often harder than it seems. Being able to collaborate with your peers, whom you may not necessarily talk to outside of your work time, is an important life skill to learn. “It was hard to be the leader, and figure out what to do because this was my first time being the head of a project and redesigning a real area. Sometimes I would sit there and just keep going through our stuff to see what we were missing to figure out our next move, but I’d end up having to ask Mr. Codio every time,” Xochitl Rodriguez noted.
Teamwork is a big skill the teachers here at WHSAD try to push with every assignment, project, and presentation. However, this project was unusual to ones done here at WHSAD before because the students really got to see their work come to life. This is a space they interact with everyday, so they know better than anyone the issues with it. Along with this, they were able to design a space they want to be in, one that makes them feel good. “Students had complete creative control over the project, and learnt from experience,” said Mr. Codio, senior Architecture and Design teacher. Mr. Codio was one of the teachers helping with the project, and was extremely proud of the students and the effort they put into the redesign.
After all the dedication, planning, and hard work we were blessed with a brand new cafeteria including custom tables with the school’s mascot printed on them, and Brooklyn themed artwork on the walls to pull it all together. Although this space has come a long way from what it once was, the job is never truly done. In the future the students are planning to add more posters to the room and fill up the wall space.
As far as I’ve heard the students seem in favor of the new cafeteria as well. A couple of 10th grade students said it seemed much more modern and pleasant to eat in. “The restaurant style seating makes it look much more elegant and ‘clean,’” observed Alexa Kinlaw. Compared to what it once was, students have noticed how much more appealing the space is. It feels more social, like a place to blow off some steam in the middle of the day, which is exactly the kind of environment they were going for. Which aspect deserves credit for this isn’t certain, but the booths have definitely played a part. “The best thing they’ve added is the booths,” said Ingrid Salas. The booths have become the most popular spot, and you’ll often see them almost completely full of students playing cards, eating lunch, and chatting. They make the space feel much more friendly, while adding a bit of flair to the room.