Skip to content

Community News

Oct 18, 2017

Messing around at the BSA

Carpenter header2

Header image: Learning By Design. Credit: Martin Caine.

In August 1999, I was a young architect who had just moved to Boston from New York City where I had been volunteering in K-12 design educationprograms with AIA New York. In the fall of 1999, I attended the KidsBuild! kickoff meeting seeking ways to connect with the design community in Boston. At the meeting, KidsBuild! chair Dan Perruzzi AIA drafted me on the spot to become the co-chair of the Youth Visions committee whose charge was K-12 design education. This was fine by me because I was already enamored with the scale and potential impact of KidsBuild! as well as the amazing commitment demonstrated by its volunteers.

At the member reception in spring 2000—my first at the Architects Building—new members and committee chairs introduced themselves. After I mentioned that I was a new member from NY, George Takoudes AIA interjected that I was a first! Both a new member and new co-chair of the Youth Visions committee. The warmth of this welcome was a testament to the openness and collegiality of the Boston AIA Chapter, which was something new to me.

In that first year of my involvement, I came to the BSA's then deputy director, Nancy Jenner Hon. BSA, with a desire to bring my experience with New York's Learning by Design program to Massachusetts. Nancy immediately understood the value of expanding design education programming beyond KidsBuild! and introduced me to Jan Ham, an educator who had similar ideas about connecting architects and children. With Nancy’s vision and Richard's support, Jan and I launched Learning By Design in Massachusetts, which became a BSA committee and later, a program of the BSA.

In recent years, the Learning By Design program, including KidsBuild!, has found a permanent home with the BSA Foundation. Design youth programming in the BSA universe has expanded greatly since its early days and has by now served more than 25,000 individuals. My goal with these programs is to introduce children to the power of design in their communities and to instill in them the power to improve it. Design thinking teaches fundamental life skills that are essential to 21st Century living: critical thinking, collaboration, and creative problem solving. Many have heard me say that we are not making little architects, but rather, we are making big community members. In 2017, the BSA Foundation listed youth design education as one of its three strategic goals, elevating the urgency of this work and its potential impact on the next generation of citizens.

The BSA has allowed me make a career out of doing what I love: working with kids and the committed design professionals who volunteer their time—all while making a mess!

Polly Carpenter FAIA, BSA Foundation director of public programs