Imagination Becomes Reality for Midtown's Architecture Apprentices

The school halls rattled with activity from the hundreds of young men attending Midtown programs this summer. High school students from the Architecture Apprenticeship paced nervously, practiced presentations and made last minute adjustments to their three-dimensional models. Today was presentation day, and a panel of architects would soon arrive to evaluate students’ drawings, models and presentations.

 Alejandro, a second-year Architecture apprentice at Midtown, describes his design to the panel of architects.

Alejandro, a second-year Architecture apprentice at Midtown, describes his design to the panel of architects.

The Architecture Apprenticeship is one of five summer professional apprenticeships at Midtown this summer, which also include Law, Business, PR and Communications and Engineering (as well as Hospitality & Management, Engineering, and Business at the Metro Achievement Center). To mirror real world work experience, students apply and interview for these highly selective programs. Students who exhibit strong attendance and participation also receive a stipend for their work.

Along the way, these apprentices receive instruction from working professionals and college students in each respective field. During these seven-week courses, students develop hard and soft work skills through hands-on individual and group projects, presentations, and peer/professional evaluation. To round out curriculum and further develop professional experience, students also embark on immersive field trips to professional and educational settings.

Carlos Concepcion, the Architecture Apprenticeship instructor for the last 5 years, has witnessed the impact and growth of the apprenticeships firsthand: “I was asked to teach this course 5 years ago and have done it every year since. It is a lot of work, I have my own firm and we are very busy, but it’s also very rewarding to give back.”

Concepcion, founder and principal architect of Studio Concepcion Architects, is indeed very busy in the summer. He teaches the Midtown course by day, and by night continues to design and manage his firm. Concepcion’s dedication to the program has helped place at-risk students on the pathway to success, as many apprentices have gone on to study and practice architecture at schools such as IIT, UIC, and more.

On this day in the program, students presented drawings and models for single-residence container homes to a panel of six architects, which included professional working architects, architecture students from IIT, and alumni from the Midtown architecture program. Visitors also included Mari Craven from the Chaddick Foundation, which helps fund the Architecture Apprenticeship.

 Carlos Concepcion, in his fifth year of teaching the Midtown Architecture Apprenticeship, describes the assignment to the panel of architects.

Carlos Concepcion, in his fifth year of teaching the Midtown Architecture Apprenticeship, describes the assignment to the panel of architects.

Concepcion introduced the projects to the panel and discussed the concept of “1+1=3,” where bringing two things together often creates a third effect, where the sum of the whole is greater than the parts. The only guidelines were that the project use three containers, and that it must fit in a standard Chicago lot size of 25 feet by 125 feet. These loose guidelines opened the door for students to be creative, but they still had to consider functional aspects such as lighting and the livability of their designs.

The panel of architects evaluated each project based on creativity and function, providing individual feedback, and offering insights to the entire group. Students fielded questions and had to think on their feet to justify their design choices, and discuss elements to reconsider. The architects lauded the students for their creativity, attention to detail, and the functionality of their designs which, for many students, was their first model.

One panelist, a current student at IIT, praised the students, “Many of these models are better than what I see from my peers at school.” He encouraged students to continue to believe in their creative process.

Another panelist provided insight on the challenge of “archi-torture school,” describing the long hours it takes to complete the college program. He described having to persevere through tough instructors, long hours, and countless redesigns. He assured the students that while arduous, the process is worth it in the end, especially if they truly love architecture.

From individual feedback, to hearing the career and educational paths of the panelists, the students gained valuable perspective from the experience. For their final projects, students will take the lessons learned from the single-family project, to build larger, collective housing projects. For this more advanced design, they will consider not only individual living units, but interior and exterior common spaces as well.

The attention to detail and the design are expressions of you, and imagination quickly becomes reality.
— Alexander Demeter, Architect on the Midtown Panel

Describing the constant interaction of creativity and function in architecture, Alexander Demeter, a container architect himself, encouraged students to question the conventional idea of houses. He also reaffirmed the importance of attention to detail and expressing oneself through drawings and models: “These drawings and models are a language. The attention to detail and the design are expressions of you, and imagination quickly becomes reality.”

Midtown’s Architecture Apprenticeship is helping students’ imagined career paths become reality as well. Alejandro, a second-year apprentice, is more passionate than ever about following his dream of becoming an architect: “I definitely want to pursue architecture. I hope to go to IIT like (assistant instructor) Arian Garcia. I would like to study some engineering as well, but will definitely focus on architecture.”

By Brent Bridwell, Midtown Educational Foundation