By: Meg Schubert & Rachel Bannon-Godfrey 

You don’t have to be an architect or a planner to have a voice in your community. Change starts with being conscious of the built environment and understanding how it influences the social environment. 

Last month RNL hosted a Project Pipeline workshop for a group of 12 middle school students from a number of Denver Public Schools, along with their Denver Kids mentors, to explore the idea that they can each be a voice for change in their own communities by starting to think about the spaces and places in their neighborhoods, and how they are influenced by design. 

As part of the B Corp community’s Inclusion Challenge, RNL has committed to addressing diversity and inclusion in our project work and in our profession generally, starting with increasing children’s exposure to the language, power and potential of architecture and planning in shaping communities. We’ve been involved with a Denver Architectural Foundation program called Cleworth Architectural Society, which introduces architecture to elementary and middle school students, for several years now, so as soon as we learned about Project Pipeline, we knew it was a program we wanted to become involved in. 

Developed by the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), Project Pipeline is a STEM program designed to introduce underrepresented children to the parameters of social justice using the language of architecture and design. RNL worked closely with Executive Director Bryan C. Lee Jr., and Denver Kids, Inc, a local group that helps students in higher-risk environments graduate from high school, pursue secondary education, and evaluate career options, to tailor Project Pipeline’s curriculum to be culturally and colloquially sensitive to the Denver Metro Area. 

Through three exercises progressively moving up in scale from personal space up to an entire neighborhood, the 12 middle school children came together into groups with RNL interior designers, architects and urban planners to design their ideal community.   

One neighborhood heavily considered circulation, designing bridges, inserting bike lanes and providing a variety of street widths - skate parks were also a huge priority. Another neighborhood took the approach of evenly distributing schools, homes, commerce, etc. across the entire neighborhood rather than creating single-use zones, but all anchored around a central, majestic City Hall. The third neighborhood planned their community around a large park and heart-shaped lake, with apartments and houses around the perimeter to attract a variety of families and individuals.   

The resulting designs reflected a magical combination of imagination, curiosity and collaboration. Young and old learned from each other, and we can’t wait for our next Project Pipeline event.