Upstream Publicolor

At-risk teens get critiqued by top architects during Publicolor’s Summer Design Studio

Students and critics gather around to discuss the projects developed in Publicolor's 2019 Summer Design Studio. (José Figueroa)

On October 1st, the nonprofit Publicolor hosted its annual Summer Design Studio critique at their Manhattan office. The middle and high school students were tasked with reinventing the hospital experience as their design problem and developed solutions (at a variety of scales) to address the needs of nurses, physicians, patients, and families. The students were joined by a distinguished jury of New York City architects, designers, and artists including Thomas Phifer, Jonathan Marvel, and Kitty Hawks.

The Summer Design Studio (SDS) is a seven-week work-study program where at-risk teens focus on literacy and math through the lens of design, while also taking S.A.T. prep classes at Pratt Institute and engaging in community service activities. The goal of the program is to prepare students to return to school in the fall with a head start, as recent research shows that low-income students who don’t have access to organized activities actually lose about two months of reading achievement over the summer. This loss adds up over the course of their education.

A table sits against a green wall and is covered in architectural models. On the wall are posters of drawings.

Publicolor’s colorful Manhattan office was filled with drawings, models, and prototypes of designs that aim to enrich the hospital experience. (José Figueroa)

The projects exhibited ranged from an urban farm to keep patients in the geriatric ward active and healthy, to a fully coded app that free’s patients from paperwork by digitally sending your encrypted information ahead of time while you drive to the hospital of your choice. Some proposals were to the scale of an individual body, such as the “the stepper upper,” a pull-out step stool that allows children to step on to reach the sinks in pediatric departments. Others were more at an urban scale, including a medical pop-up in subway stations to aid those who get sick on the train.

Three students stand before an audience, holding their architectural models, and describing their project.

Students stood before the jury and audience to explain their project concepts. (José Figueroa)

Eighth-grader Mariana, said of her urban farm design: “We had to do research on incurable diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia and we had found out something called the mind diet, which is basically a bunch of fruits, vegetables, and nuts that have vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that could help prevent the diseases.” The group’s project description explains further: the wheelchair-accessible garden allows residents to participate in caring for the garden, feeding the fish, caring for the worms, and making a difference in the lives of all the patients in the hospital.

Publicolor’s founder, Ruth Lande Shuman, said of the program’s success, “This was a stellar summer for our 110 struggling students who grew enormously both socially and emotionally, learned a lot of technical and computer skills (including Rhino), and developed the self-confidence to speak with poise about their work.”

A full list of the critics is as follows:

Thomas Phifer, Architect; Jean Phifer, Architect; Henry Myerberg, Architect; Robert DiMauro, Lifestyle Commentator; Kitty Hawks, Interior Designer; Lily Gunn Townsend, VP Collection, Michael Kors; Michael Shuman, Architect; Tom Geismar, Graphic Designer; Jonathan Marvel, Architect; Tucker Wiemeister, Industrial Designer; Peter Ragonetti, Industrial Designer; Hannah Bruce, Artist; George Ranalli, Architect

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