Spotlight: Design LAB

said by: Jordan Fitch

You may have seen a flyer or read in the SAID newsletter about a program called Design LAB (Learn and Build), sponsored by the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati. Design LAB is a program that pairs volunteers from the design field (including university students!) with classrooms all over the city of Cincinnati for a semester-long design project. Throughout the semester, students learn about the design process and collaborate to build a model of their solution to the design challenge. At the end of each spring semester, Design LAB hosts an open exhibit of all projects from all over the city at the Main Branch of the Cincinnati Public Library (this year's event is Saturday May 5th!). 

Students at the Academy of World Languages participating in Design LAB

Students at the Academy of World Languages participating in Design LAB

Christen Lubbers, the director of Design LAB at the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati, speaks highly of UC's involvement with the program, saying: "UC students are some of the best volunteers we have - they seem to really bond with the students they work with, making them excellent mentors to the youth in their communities. I think the program is great for them as well though. Through teaching, they build confidence in their knowledge and skills, and they are able to network with many professionals in the field who are also participating in the program."

Being a platform for all things SAID-student-related, Re:SAID wanted to highlight two students who have been volunteering with Design LAB this spring - Bailey Stultz, from this year's M.Arch Thesis class, and Jonah Pruitt, from the fourth-year B.S.Arch class. It seems that both Jonah and Bailey have witnessed the infectious joy that kids bring to the design process - check out their answers below for more information about Design LAB.


How did you find out about Design LAB? Why did you sign up as a classroom volunteer?  

Bailey: I learned about Design Lab while working at SHP Leading Design in 2014. SHP does a great job of recruiting within the office for volunteers. I really enjoyed the experience that year and thought it would be a great opportunity for some stress relief this semester.

Jonah: I heard about Design LAB freshman year on a poster around DAAP and thought it would be a great way to engage with Cincinnati. I have always loved working with kids, in high school I was a gymnastics coach, and I felt that getting out of my classroom and into another one would only help me relax and connect with new people.  


Why is educating K-12 students about architecture important? Why is it important to you?   

Jonah Pruitt, BSArch '18, working with students at North Avondale Montessori during last year's program

Jonah Pruitt, BSArch '18, working with students at North Avondale Montessori during last year's program

Bailey: In my experience design lab becomes much more of an education in problem-solving and encourages students to question why our environment is shaped in certain ways. Working with the students reminds me of what can be accomplished without the fear of failure.

Jonah: I believe the best way to improve lives for people is to foster 'design intelligence'.  Helping kids to design their own spaces shows them first hand how much thought and love can go into design.  For a few, it can spark a lifelong passion.  My goal with this program is to expose kids to the importance and beauty of their environment, whether or not they all become designers or not.  


What is your favorite thing about the program?

Bailey: Every time I walk out of the classroom smiling, because their excitement is contagious.

Jonah: I love it when all the kids say hello to me at the beginning of class or when ask me questions, it might be selfish but it always makes me feel absolutely elated.


What school and age level are you working with? Are there any particular challenges at your school or with your age group?

Bailey: I am working with a group of 3rd graders at Covedale Elementary in a math enrichment course. The kids are at a perfect age for this sort of activity. They are capable of being independent, but haven't gotten to the age where they have attitudes.

Jonah: I've been working in the 4-6th grades for the years I've been with Design LAB.  They have the most enthusiasm and vibrancy, making them an absolute joy to work with.  I always leave the classroom in a better mood because their joy and energy is infectious.


What is the time commitment like? How do you balance it with your own school/studio work? 

Students at Covedale Elementary investigate structure during their biweekly DesignLAB sessions with Bailey Stultz, M.Arch '18

Students at Covedale Elementary investigate structure during their biweekly DesignLAB sessions with Bailey Stultz, M.Arch '18

Bailey: I go to the classroom every other week for their half hour class. Since it is a little longer of a drive, it end up taking about an hour and a half total out of my day. It's not too hard to manage with school, however with a full class schedule it might be a little harder.

Jonah: I usually go once a week for about an hour.  Honestly, it's never been an issue balancing with studio. The kids move faster than you would think and I've rarely spent time outside of their class working on it.


Describe this year's project and your favorite lesson/week so far. 

Bailey: This year the prompt is "Food for Thought". Students are asked to design anything relating to food. This can range from food production to food consumption... even solutions for food waste. My favorite lesson so far was the lesson on structures. Students learned about how buildings are constructed using their own bodies. They were partnered up to act as columns with foam core and books used as beams. They even acted out archways and took turns crawling through them.

Jonah: This year's program is all about food.  The kids get to design a restaurant, a market, a farm, or a mix.  Food is ubiquitous, and kids love talking about all the places they've interacted with food.  The best week so far was the brainstorming week where they worked as groups to come up with concepts.  The ideas were wild (my favorite being a pizza parlor in space, rivaled only by the Hot Air Balloon Cafe.)  

Anything else you'd like to include?

Student from Covedale Elementary learn about structure in Design LAB using their bodies

Bailey: While building a model, I had a student jump up with his hands in the air and scream, "THIS IS PROGRESS!" Another student was trying to lift a book with one arm and puts it on his head instead claiming, "I think my head is stronger than my arms."

Jonah: I firmly believe in this program.  Its organizers, volunteers, and schools are beyond any comparison and working with them is a joy.  I'm truly lucky to get to participate and it has been a defining part of my education at UC.  

Interested in getting updates about Design LAB or want more information on the program? Contact Christen Lubbers, Education Direction at the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati


Interested in highlighting student work or activities inside or outside of SAID? Email us at or attend one of our meetings - Mondays, 12:30pm in the DAAP Library.