Teens Collaborate Across Cities


NDC’s Johnny Macon assists a student in prototype design.

On Saturday June 9th, 2018, teens from Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Baltimore came together at Open Works to collaborate on a design intervention in the Greenmount West neighborhood. Convened by Neighborhood Design Center as part of the 2018 ACD Conference, this workshop was developed by Edrie Ortega and Jason Neal of J. Neal Design to challenge visiting teens and local children to create conceptual designs of neighborhood improvement ideas. The students had never met, but had each learned skills in the design field through their respective programs. Students from Philadelphia had expertise in both community design and fabrication as members of TinyWPA, an organization that works to empower community design leaders through “training in design, collaboration, leadership, fabrication, and entrepreneurship. The National Building Museum’s teen program has taught students how to both work in a team and how to develop strong conceptual designs; skills that partner well with the applied fabrication knowledge of the teens at Open Works.

The day began with pizza at the proposed project site (Wonderground park at the corner of Lanvale and Barclay). Children ran and played, the teens got to know one another and explored the site, and leaders engaged in conversation. Soon enough lunch time was over and it was time to get to work. The goal of the project: to gain insight through collaboration and knowledge exchange while ideating improvements to the local park. Wonderground, the site identified for the project, is well known to the local neighborhood kids. These kids (with Noisy Tenants) became the project’s ‘clients’ and each pitched their ideas to the older teens, identifying the three focus categories of play, performance, and transportation.

The teens and children then moved to Open Works and broke into groups to create projects together exploring these issues. With the teens bringing their practical knowledge to help clarify and make real the children’s visions and the children bringing their local expert knowledge of the space, post-it notes, pens, sketch paper, and cardboard were flying in no time. Jason Neal facilitated the workshop, pushing the teams to populate a central board with ideas and to begin creating prototypes. By putting ideas on a rotatable central column, the work of each breakout group was easily shared with everyone.

Students work to build a cardboard prototype of a safe and playable bus stop.

The students’ output was strong: a playable bus stop to both improve safety and service and create a place for children, a stage design for local performances and movie nights, and a sculpture that could be used to sit, play, or bike on. Through this collaboration, each city was able to learn about similar work in other places and gain new insight into the design process. This final prototypes from this process will allow the kids from Noisy Tenants to better express their ideas to the local community association. In this way, the designs created become an asset to the local children and community, and may be further explored or actualized. Neighborhood Design Center was glad to partake in this inter-city collaboration, and hopes to continue and engage with these amazing groups. 

An interactive sculpture designed for play. (Image Courtesy J. Neal Design).

a multi-use stage to accommodate performance on site.

Playable features on a bus stop prototype.