CityVision: Mentoring Future Designers

The Cairo
“The kids really want to be here, and are interested in learning about architecture and urban planning.”

NCPC planner and CityVision mentor, Stefanie Brown

Laying a Foundation in Design

NCPC staff members contribute time and expertise every year to CityVision, a biannual design education program for District school children sponsored by the National Building Museum (NBM) since 1993.

The semester-long program helps District of Columbia middle school students with an interest in design learn about the built environment and develop the skills necessary to initiate change in their own communities.

“NCPC is particularly proud of our involvement in CityVision,” says NCPC executive director Marcel Acosta. “Kids work with professionals on real design scenarios to improve the city.”

Building Heights Graphic
CityVision presentations

Hands-On Learning

The rigorous curriculum requires a full day of participation every week. Classes are restricted to 30-40 students per semester to ensure individualized attention.

At the beginning of the program, students use everyday objects to learn the principles of design. Bell peppers provide a model for different types of drawings— plans, sections, and elevations. A rubber band and a single piece of paper are the students’ only tools to fashion a container that can protect an egg when dropped from the second story.

Kalorama Neighborhood Image
CityVision student participants

“The [egg-drop] exercise teaches them how to define a design problem, solve it within constraints, and analyze why particular designs succeed and fail,” explains Scott Kratz, the museum’s vice president for education. “They also have a lot of fun, which is important.”

The young designers eventually transition from household objects to cutting-edge computer aided design technology. They develop skills in technical drawings and building three-dimensional models.

Community Change 

Many children from Washington, DC’s neighborhoods grow up in the city without any sense of living in the nation’s capital. NCPC’s federal planners help instill a sense of pride and ownership in the city as a whole and encourage them to stake a claim to the national narrative.

Washington skyline

“It’s a thrill working with the students as they imagine improvements for premier sites in the capital.”

NCPC architect and CityVision mentor Kenny Walton

Participants over the years have developed concept designs for new museums and memorials in locations throughout the city and explored possibilities for creating a White House visitors center. Future projects include a riverfront development.“ CityVision is a valuable investment in the city’s next generation, says Andrew Costanzo, associate outreach programs coordinator at the NBM.

“Students develop skills in problem-solving, public speaking, and negotiation. In the long run, we hope that the program will encourage them to pursue higher education or job training in design-related fields.” Since the program’s inception, more than 900 members of the District’s youth in underserved areas have passe
d through the program. The sustained contact between students and the mentors has helped many of them pursue careers in planning, architecture, engineering, and design fields.

Rewards of Mentorship 

Watching the students learn and expand their horizons over the course of the semester and beyond is a rewarding experience for NCPC’s planners.

“I’ve written a lot of recommendation letters for students applying to Duke Ellington [School of the Arts],” says Mr. Walton. “At least one of them is now a successful architect.”
“The kids really want to be here,” adds NCPC planner and mentor Stefanie Brown. “Not only are they bright, but they are interested in learning about architecture and urban planning.”

Sometimes, however, interest and motivation blossom only after getting involved. The enthusiasm and energy of volunteers from the museum, NCPC, and the community of local design professionals inspire them.“To be honest, I thought this program was just a way of getting away from school. My parents even said it was a waste of time,” says Columbia Heights student Jeajout Cymonisse. “But I can truly say that this program has proven my parents and me wrong. The things I learned in this program are way beyond the levels of education taught at my school.”