Some of the most rewarding moments in high school come during after hours. Students who seek opportunities will be taxed at times, but the payoff in terms of learning experiences cannot be denied. One of WHSAD’s most notable extracurricular activities is its partnership programs with some of the most respected architecture firm in New York City. This year committed students attended weekly sessions with architects from CTA, a firm that, according to their mission statement, “strives to conserve our world’s natural resources and implement innovative and environmentally-friendly design strategies.”
Students gained first-hand knowledge regarding the sustainability movement in architecture, and how firms such as CTA are not only designing cutting-edge structures but also doing so with a thoughtfulness regarding the future. Below are some of the students’ thoughts about the program.
Jayden Belle, Sophomore
At first CTA, a firm of architects who design, plan and coordinate sustainable, school buildings, historical sites, and affordable housing, etc. tasked us to renovate the basement of P.S 105X located in the Bronx. I underestimated how complicated renovating a school while meeting the demands of a client would be. Cafeteria, kitchen, classrooms, student and staff bathrooms as well as the lobby was a must. The cafeteria was a little over 6,000 square feet and the kitchen was half of that. This quickly became a problem because both the kitchen and cafeteria would take up so much space that we would never reach the clients’ demands.
Everyday architects take a client’s absurd idea and attempt to make it work, but sometimes these demands require creative compromise. We as architects had to tell our clients that their demands could not work. This created a learning experience for my entire team, and our mentors acted out how anyone would act once told they can’t have this. With every change to the demand, we needed a valid explanation. This constantly made my team think carefully about important decisions such as reducing the overall square feet of either the cafeteria or the kitchen area. We were so focused on these oversized areas that implementing the optional storage area was out of the question. This program kept me on my toes, using problem solving skills as well as techniques I learned during freshman year such as a bubble diagram.
“This will never work” said Matthew, “The kitchen and the dining room can never coexist in the same space yet we need to meet the demand.” Taking on this responsibility was at first too much to handle. It felt like I was playing with Legos, attempting to fit both the kitchen and the dining room in the same area to create a flow that would allow so many people to move effortlessly through the space. We came up with many ways of manipulating the shape of these spaces from the dining room to the bathroom. CTA gave me a reason to implement AutoCAD and gave me an experience as if I had my own desk and was working at a firm. Every single visit we needed to present our improvement or suffer the clients’ wrath, and every single visit of constant presenting only fattened the cow. Because of this experience, I quickly learned that in order to nix a client’s ideas, one needs to have suggestions for alternatives. One must know the space inside and out and must do the homework in order to present with confidence so that the client has the confidence that those who they hired can get the job done well.
Adamaris Cardenas, Junior
The CTA project has been focused on making an existing floor plan for an elementary school. It involves planning two classrooms, a lunchroom , a kitchen, a lobby, and bathrooms for the girls, boys and teachers. We need to keep in mind that we are planning rooms in an already existing building, so there is limited space to work with. It also a competition where the group who wins will have their floorplan chosen for the actual planning of the floor.
Something that I learned from my mentors in CTA is to be confident in front of clients. If you are not confident or at least look confident, you won’t be able to sell to your client. Every time the groups went to the CTA office, each group presented what they have so far. And every time, the mentors would say at the beginning to be confident and not stutter. It makes a big difference while presenting.
Advice for the future participants is to be ready to commit to the project. When you participate in the project, you should have in mind to stay in the project till the end. Students are not forced to stay, but it will be preferable to not flake out on your teammates when your team is halfway towards working on the floor plan. Another piece of advice will be to not be afraid to ask for help. While working on the project, there will be problems that only the mentors in CTA can help with. My group mates didn’t communicate with the mentors as much and in the future I would definitely be more open about problems I might be having.
Skills I’ve improved on are my communication skills. At first, every participant was placed into three groups. I was placed with other students with whom I never talked, which was awkward for me. But as the project progressed, I saw myself communicating with my teammates as communication was important to see which group member was working on what. I slowly saw myself talking to my teammates and growing more confident in my ability to communicate my ideas.
At the end of March I started an internship at CTA. It was my first time doing an internship, so I was nervous. On my first day, all I really did is meet the people I am going to be working with and then I was sometimes left to my own devices when there was nothing to do. I sometimes help with the small things around the office like do drawings and research information. I also sometimes do site visits, where someone from the office will take me to a site they are currently working on and show me the process.
Luis Chinchilla, Freshman
I feel like my time at CTA has impacted me more than I could have ever imagined. Other than my progress in learning to use AutoCAD, I feel like it’s made me a more open person. When we first went to CTA, I was extremely nervous due to the fact that during this time frame, I would be working with actual architects. When we gave our first presentation, I was speaking very softly, and I was using words that were unnecessary because of me being nervous. At the end of the presentation they spoke about the presentation itself and how I can try speaking louder and not using so many unnecessary words, and I took that advice to heart. After going there multiple times I started coming out of my shell and speaking more confidently about what we’ve worked on. I’ve carried on that experience into other things outside of CTA. For example in the classroom. Recently I was in something called the Lighthouse Collaborative where people from other schools in the district come and see what our school is like. During that time I was chosen to speak in front of said schools to explain what I’ve done during my time in this high school. Although there were many people who I didn’t know, I spoke as confidently as I could, and I felt like I did great.
Mohammad Hassan, Senior Mentor
From March of 2023 to May of 2023, I was privileged enough to work with CTA Architects, an architecture firm of well-experienced architects. They are also well-versed in traditional urban building types and new technologies. I would like to say my experience compared to the rest of the other participants was unique. The main objective of our project was to create a 2D rendering of an elementary school. We also had to create a presentation to display our final design in a more concise yet professional manner.
We had to be innovative and professional through this entire process. I was initially introduced to the project two months after it began and was definitely confused and very much behind on the project. However, I was able to adapt to the situation with the help of my mentors, Kevin and Asaf. Kevin and Asaf are architects at CTA and were our designated mentors. Their main priority was to help my group prepare for the final presentation.
It was stressful in all aspects to be completely transparent. Nevertheless, I am grateful that I was able to be a part of such an opportunity. It has really opened my eyes to the reality of a workspace in the real world. This was done through many practice presentations, extensive critiques, and many hours of redoing our rendering. It was a true process of trial and error to a point where we finally achieved a product that was comprehensive enough to win the design competition.
Richard Hernandez, Senior Mentor
Working on this project as a senior mentor comes with a lot of responsibilities, one of them being the supervision of my team. For our project we partnered up with the architects at CTA and were tasked with creating a floor plan for a given section of an elementary school. This plan needed to include areas such as a bathroom, cafeteria, kitchen, lobby, storage area and two classrooms. Additionally, we were also required to do weekly presentations regarding the progress we made each week. These meetings allowed for the architects to give us feedback on what we could improve on for next time as well as pointing out things that they liked. Projects like this can be intimidating for some; however because of my past experience with similar projects, I was appointed as one of the team captains. Being team captain meant it was my responsibility to supervise and mentor the two other freshmen on my team. Because they were freshmen, this meant that this would be the first project that either of them took on since coming to WHSAD. As such this also meant that they almost knew nothing about how to present or the skills required for a project of this caliber.
The first presentation we ever did went as good as you would expect it to. Usually, I would do most of the presenting but since this was their first time, I wanted to see how good they were at first. You could tell that they weren’t used to this sort of thing yet, but even though it wasn’t the greatest, everyone still had a good time and we got feedback on how we could improve for next time. After each presentation, I would also sit down with my team and inform them on ways they could improve while simultaneously teaching them how to use programs such as AutoCad that were vital to this this project. With each presentation you could see them gaining more confidence and could tell that they had learned a lot from being on this project. While we did learn to overcome our weaknesses within our presentation skills we also had other problems with the project itself.
For each area we were given a set amount of square footage that the school needed to have. However, if we were to follow the original plan, we found that we wouldn’t be able to fit everything the clients wanted. We had to think creatively if we wanted to find a solution to this problem. A decision had to be made whether we would need to eliminate one of the areas entirely to make space for everything else or reduce the square footage of one or multiple areas to fit everything. In the end we decided to reduce the size of one area, that being the cafeteria, so that we didn’t have to eliminate one of the rooms entirely. Problems like these were constant throughout the whole project but if they taught us anything, it was how to think like an architect. These were the kind of decisions that some architects have to make when dealing with clients, and it was interesting to be able to experience something similar.
Projects like these allow for everyone to grow. While it was mainly the freshmen who learned more from the experience, I also learned a thing or two, such as how to be a better leader and mentor, and I am proud to see the kind of people that my teammates are turning into. When I graduate next week, it will be those students I mentored who will turn into the next student leaders, and I can’t wait to hear about the other great things that they will continue to do.
Shea Koiner, Freshman
The CTA Architects PS 105X project is a project to add another layout to the school PS 105X. People from the architecture firm have been helping WHSAD students to design and then present these design ideas as part of an ongoing project. Students were divided into three teams, with each team’s goal to make the best design for the school. Each group had one senior mentoring the less experienced people in their group and at least one person from CTA architects giving the group ideas of what they could do for the design of the school. As a freshman during this project, I was frequently being mentored. Almost every Thursday all three groups would meet with the architecture firm to present what they have done in their design of the school so far. During and after our presentations, the CTA architects would give us feedback for what we did right, what we did wrong, and what we can change. All of the groups had to learn not to feel sad or angry after getting constructive criticism.
After months of being a part of this project, I learned a lot. I learned how to use AutoCad, which is a software used for 3D modeling. We used AutoCad to show our design of the school. I also had to learn how to use Miro Board, which is a website we used to share images for ideas and inspirations. The hardest skill we had to learn is presenting, which everyone tends to have a hard time learning in the beginning. However, with the help of people from my school, senior mentors, and CTA architects I was able to learn how to do presentations. These are things I would be learning in college, yet I’m learning them in my first year of high school because of this project.
This project helped me learn how I can be an architect in the future. The project has helped me plan out what I need to learn and when I will learn it. Now that I have been in this huge project I am prepared for future projects and will be able to learn more about how to become a future architect.