This month, the Barnard and Columbia College architecture department in New York is debuting a free three-week summer program designed to support low-income high school students from the Upper Manhattan and Harlem communities. Geared specifically to young women, the Barnard Architecture + Design Summer Institute is funded with a grant from the IDC Foundation and will be led by Barnard architecture faculty. Barnard and Columbia College are both undergraduate colleges of Columbia University.

“From my experience and understanding of the schools in New York City, there are limited opportunities to access design curricula and opportunities in design fields,” says Barnard architecture department chair Karen Fairbanks, who has been developing the program for over a year, “so we wanted to expand our resources to youth in the city."

Applications for the program opened this spring, and 16 students are joining its first cohort, which will convene on Barnard’s Upper West Side campus. "Participants will be treated like an architecture student,” says Fairbanks. “They'll be using our studio spaces and computer lab and will be doing workshops through the design center.” Studio instruction will be supplemented with field trips to sites throughout the city, including a curator-led tour of the “Designing Peace” exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt, building and construction site tours with Adjaye Associates, and a project visit to "The Nursery," a MATTAFORMA-designed garden and performance space at a music venue in Brooklyn, with firm principal Lindsey Wikstrom. 

The curriculum is organized around design at three descending scales: first the city, then the building, and finally the body. In the first week, students will work on a city mapping project with digital tools, while the second week will emphasize drawing and model-making techniques. The final week will focus on how materials can "support, engage, and enable human...expression," with an assignment to create a wearable object that provides a specific bodily experience.

Fairbanks is working on arranging a tour of Harlem architecture and design offices, and hopes to expose students to a variety of architecture-adjacent fields. “We want them to see a range of people practicing in these fields and see kinds of work that they might not realize play a role in contributing to the built environment,” she says.

The IDC grant, which will fund the program for its first two years, also provides a $1,000 stipend for each student. “It’s great to offer a free program, but if the students were planning to work this summer, they still might not be able to afford it,” said Fairbanks.

At the conclusion of the program on July 14, Barnard will host a free public exhibition of the students’ work on the third floor gallery of the college's Weiss/Manfredi-designed Diana Center.