A mentorship program for public school students headed by  Pratt Institute’s Graduate Architecture and Urban Design (GAUD) program Critic at Large Thom Mayne, Pritzker Prize-winning architect and founding principal at the firm Morphosis, was recently showcased at Pratt in an exhibition of work on campus by sixth graders taught by undergraduate architecture student Yeshu Tan, B.Arch. ’20. In parallel to his appointment as the GAUD Critic at Large where Mayne works directly with Graduate Architecture students, and now in its second year, the Thom Mayne Young Architects program has given the students, who attend Hall Elementary School in Bridgeport, CT, the opportunity to learn architectural concepts and develop design skills.

The Young Architects program developed from Mayne’s participation in President Barack Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and involvement in Turnaround Arts, the national program launched by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2012 to bring arts education to public schools performing in the bottom five percent, which includes Hall Elementary. Turnaround Arts enables artists to adopt schools, working directly with students and teachers, engaging parents and the school community, and highlighting the positive impact of the arts on their school’s transformation.

“The Young Architects program demonstrates that classes driven by creativity and design thinking have a significant impact in expanding the minds of young students,” said Mayne. “The program doesn’t just give them an introduction to architecture; it helps them hone their problem-solving skills and apply them in all areas of their education. I’m so impressed to see the projects that these students have created, and I hope to reach even more students in the future.”

Under Mayne’s guidance, Yeshu Tan (an undergraduate student attending the Pratt School of Architecture) has taught weekly after-school classes since last fall at Hall Elementary, where the sixth graders not only develop, design, and build proposals, but also learn how to master design software and present their work to their school commu­nity. Teaching elementary school students offers Pratt architecture students the chance to communicate core architectural and design concepts in different ways and help the next generation develop skills that can be used for lifelong learning.

Tan’s students were challenged to use their burgeoning knowledge of architectural concepts and design software to create a “beautification proposal” for their classroom last fall. An exhibition of their final projects was displayed in February at Pratt’s Higgins Hall in a special showcase that marked the success of the students and program to date and demonstrated the potential for expanding the initiative in the future.

Aileen Wilson, Director of Pratt’s Center for Art, Design, and Community Engagement K-12, which works to increase access to instruction in art and design for children, was impressed with the work displayed in the exhibition. She noted the synergies between the Center K-12’s work and the Young Architects program. “Thom’s program shares the same mission as ours, and aims to increase access to architecture education and help prepare the next generation of architects,” she said.

Images: Work by sixth grade student at Hall Elementary School