Early encounters with urban design

Last Wednesday, the lunch room in Strada’s Pittsburgh office was alive with the sounds of teenagers negotiating. Not our newest recruits (yet), but participants in the ACE Mentoring Program, working in groups on a hypothetical urban design project.

ACE programs are designed to introduce high school students to the range of careers available in architecture, construction, and engineering (hence the ACE). Strada’s Eric Phillips, a savvy team leader and proactive architect, is involved with ACE and had volunteered to orchestrate an urban design activity for a group of students. With help from Larry Fabbroni and Andrea Haynes, he introduced Strada’s ideas about urban design to a group of 35 students through a presentation of projects such as Bakery Square 2.0, Market Square Place, and the Arsenal 201 Master Plan. The presentation led to a fruitful discussion with the students, connecting urban design practice to their own experiences.

After the overview and a look around the office, the group settled into their workstations. The Strada team directed and advised the students on a collaborative assignment in which each group had a site model about the size of a small game board. Wood blocks, colored paper, glue, tape, and markers were the materials for imagining new urban centers, as the windows provided inspiration with a view of the Central Business District and Mt. Washington beyond. Each group presented their model at the end of the session. With a robust range of schemes, from unapologetically bold constructions to sensitive sustainable propositions, it was a successful afternoon–hopefully awakening a few budding urban designers.