ARC / Connect

Women in Creative Careers Conference

03.26.13 / Jennifer Plume

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to return to my high school alma mater, Bay View Academy—an all-girls primary and secondary school in Riverside, RI—for the first annual Women in Creative Careers (WICC) Conference. Imagined as a sister event to Bay View’s highly successful Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Conference, the intent of WICC was to introduce middle school-age girls to a variety of creative professions through a series of hands-on workshops. From illustration and photography, to music, dance and the culinary arts, the students had many opportunities to exercise their imaginative minds.

Workshops were led by Bay View alumnae, faculty, and friends of the Academy and I was invited to lead a workshop geared toward architectural design. Through the course of the day, I engaged thirty girls spread into three one hour sessions. I asked teams of students to experiment with shape and geometry to construct a skyscraper using plastic straws and masking tape. Skyscraper designs ranged from traditional and organized forms to what can only be described as one of a kind.

Though I’m not sure that these straw creations would hold up to structural standards, I think the successes of the day were many.  Here are a few that stand out:

  • The conference as a whole brought the education of girls to the forefront—the girls could take leading roles on a team, openly express ideas, and engage in tactile learning experiences in ways that are too often rare in co-educational learning environments.
  • The girls were introduced to many positive female role models who have established their careers through finely honed creative thinking.
  • Students were able to experience how an inclination for the arts can be translated into marketable skills.

As both a designer and an alumna of Bay View, the conference held additional interest for me: it was an opportunity to experience a day inside of an evolving educational model. Together, the WISE and WICC Conferences demonstrate the power of integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) coursework. This integration has in turn dramatically altered the spatial organization of the school I once knew so well.

In addition to a major redistribution of learning spaces, classrooms have become more flexible to accommodate a wide variety of activities. Technology has spread out from the isolated computer labs of the past to become an integral part of the average classroom. Spaces are more geared toward nurturing well rounded and inquisitive individuals rather than focused on a specific subject matter. This advancement is especially exciting to see as these young women are encouraged into the science and technology fields where they have traditionally gravitated towards the arts.

At ARC, we are seeing similar trends in the planning, programming and design of academic facilities with more and more frequency. It is clear from our recent projects that independent schools are making it a priority to integrate Science, Math and Art programs. I see this as proof of the important role that both science and arts play in critical thinking and problem solving skills. As learning models continue to evolve, we designers—and the next generation of creative minds to come—will continue to rethink and adapt the spaces that accommodate them.

I am fortunate to work on a wide range of projects that integrate both science and arts. It is also exciting to work in Kendall Square, in the heart of what is now being called Boston’s premier hub for start-ups. ARC’s office is adjacent to MIT, Microsoft, Google, Genzyme Corporation and many other bio-tech and hi-tech companies that have attributed their success and ground-breaking ideas to the proximity to other like-minded companies and innovative institutions. This form of thinking further supports the theory that both location and the cross pollination of ideas are critical to research, learning and successful advancements in science and technology.

I felt privileged to participate in the WICC event and give back to the school that helped inspire me. Hopefully, I helped shed some light on architecture and the role it plays in our built environment. 

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