Schooling Kids in the Power of Design
By Beth Novitsky
To support Gensler’s ongoing commitment to Shaping the Future of Cities at the local level, our teams participate in many volunteer efforts. Our long-standing partnership with City Year aims to transform educational spaces with heart for the next generation.
City Year is a unique national organization that helps improve outcomes for students in high-need schools, and cultivates the next generation of leaders through their alumni network. Each year, several Gensler offices partner with City Year to redesign a space within a high-need school. These spaces provide an alternative learning environment for the students, allowing City Year Corps Members to more directly support the students’ needs. They serve as a platform that enables the students to dream beyond the four walls of the classroom — a safe place where they can explore, discover, and express themselves.
These pro bono projects give Gensler designers an opportunity to create unique, inspiring spaces while seeking out creative solutions and working under a limited budget. Each year, in each school where Gensler partners with City Year, our designers dream up a “big idea,” execute it through a strong graphic vocabulary, and turn educational spaces into memorable experiences.
In New York, Gensler partnered with Bronx Early College Academy (BECA) to transform an unused prop-storage room into a functional, collaborative space that includes a quiet lounge for students and Corps Mentors, functional storage, and a private nook for meetings. The space has been renamed “The Commons” and bears a new Gensler-designed logo and environmental graphics — creating both a feature moment and a sense of belonging.
SLIDESHOW — 5 IMAGES
In Detroit, the concept for the City Year space at Bethune Elementary School is based around a familiar tool in education: the pencil. The bright, cheerful room gives students the freedom to draw, write, and make mistakes — always knowing that the trusty pink eraser is there to help them start again.
SLIDESHOW — 3 IMAGES
At Mason Academy, also in Detroit, Gensler and City Year transformed a windowless space into a globally minded playground. Gensler’s design concept centered around a child’s sense of adventure to provide an element of excitement and inspiration. Simple wooden structures provide a playhouse feel, while postcards, brightly patterned textiles, and a world map contribute to the global aesthetic.
SLIDESHOW — 6 IMAGES
Finally, at Pershing Elementary in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, a powerful before-and-after story demonstrates how bright color, fun graphics, and a unique ceiling element can transform an ordinary educational environment into a place that inspires students to think differently. This flexible space can accommodate several study groups simultaneously — and host the occasional dance party.
SLIDESHOW — 4 IMAGES
Together, these projects tell a powerful story about the ability of design to affect young lives — and teaches students and mentors alike how small changes, thoughtfully applied, can transform the world around them.