Inaugural ArcPrep Class Presents Final Projects at Portfolio Day

On Thursday, January 31st, the inaugural class of Princeton ArcPrep students presented their final projects to Princeton School of Architecture students, faculty, and guests at Portfolio Day. Culminating the fall semester, the event fostered dialogue between practicing architects and high school students interested in the field.

Princeton ArcPrep is a program introducing Trenton Central High School students to the discipline of architecture through an immersive, semester-long course on architecture, urbanism, and integrated design studio practices. Unlike other architecture programs for high school students, ArcPrep’s studio instruction is not an extra-curricular activity; it’s embedded within the school curriculum and daily schedule of participating students. The program was conceived by Mónica Ponce de León, Dean of Princeton School of Architecture.

Students spend three hours a day, four days a week in studio with Program Instructor Katie Zaeh at Trenton Central High School studying architecture through a project-based learning curriculum. On the fifth day, they participate in either a career exposure module learning from guest speakers and going on site visits with architecture firms, or in a career counseling module in which they are mentored and work on preparing for interviews and presentations, creating resumes and design portfolios, and prepare for the college application process and financial aid and scholarships. Creating the design portfolios opens up new possibilities since they are critical for college admittance in design and architecture fields. 

Princeton ArcPrep student Silvio Davila explains, “When I first started in the program, I knew nothing at all about architecture, but our teacher showed us some of the basic skills architects use. It was a fun experience that not only helps you learn skills in architecture but also helps you learn life skills.”

Architecture is a discipline that constructs culture and designs the built environment all around us. While our communities are diverse, architecture lacks diverse representation and a diverse voice. Of all registered architects in the United States, less than 2% are African American and only 3% are Latino (American Institute of Architects 2014). Princeton ArcPrep aims to diversify the field of architecture by providing comprehensive support, guidance, and academic and cultural enrichment to students who are typically underrepresented in American architecture schools and thus the profession of architecture.

Zaeh reflects on the first graduating ArcPrep class, stating, “These students have their own unique perspectives to offer to the field. They challenge assumptions and ask questions like ‘What happens if I use rap, hip hop, or ska instead of classical music as inspiration for a form?’ and ‘Why do trees automatically make a street nice?’ They are a testament to why it is so important to introduce diversity to the field of architecture. Architects design for people of all backgrounds, so without diversity in the profession, it is difficult to recognize the bias behind standards and design truly inclusive spaces.”

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