• Students on the advisory committee tried out new activities like coloring land-use maps to help rate their effectiveness at teaching principles. Their recommendations were heavily considered when putting together the final chapter selection in the new textbook.

    Credit: Charlie Brown

    Students on the advisory committee tried out new activities like coloring land-use maps to help rate their effectiveness at teaching principles. Their recommendations were heavily considered when putting together the final chapter selection in the new textbook.

Many architecture organizations in this country offer youth education programs. But one, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), has reached an important milestone with the Newhouse Program and Architecture Competition: its 25th anniversary. Along with an exhibition chronicling the program's history, the CAF is marking the occasion by making the program even better. After three years of planning and coordination with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system and volunteer advisors, the CAF has rolled out The Architecture Handbook: A Student Guide to Understanding Buildings, a 462-page textbook developed and written by foundation staffers Jennifer Masengarb and Krisann Rehbein.

The program of the first quarter-century…

The Newhouse Program got its start (and its name) from Illinois State Senator Richard H. Newhouse, who wanted to study architecture when he was young but never felt that avenue was open to him as a black man. He approached CAF and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to organize an enrichment program for students in CPS high school drafting classes. The program had its first annual competition in 1983. Students received prizes for doing the best renderings based on the CPS textbook, a 1951 architectural drafting manual that explained how to draw plans for a vacation home.

The Newhouse Program's early curriculum may have been rudimentary (not to mention irrelevant—how many city kids have a vacation home?), but it had a great impact on students. Rahman Polk, now an architectural technician at Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge Architects in Chicago, was in one of the program's first classes, during the 1983–1984 school year. He says, “I started working at 16 and hadn't really considered college until I entered the Newhouse competition. I always wanted to be an architect, but the program showed me that becoming one was an obtainable goal.”

Drafting wasn't the only skill Polk took away from the program. He also found focus in other areas of his academics and his career path. “Self-motivation and -sufficiency were key issues [that I took away], along with effective communication of ideas through graphic presentation. These things serve me well to this day.”

  • Krisann K. Rehbein
Education Specialist
Chicago Architecture Foundation

    Credit: Charlie Brown

    Krisann K. Rehbein Education Specialist Chicago Architecture Foundation
  • Jennifer Masengarb
Education Specialist
Chicago Architecture Foundation

    Credit: Charlie Brown

    Jennifer Masengarb Education Specialist Chicago Architecture Foundation

Turning the page

The Newhouse Program used the same 1951 drafting book until the start of the 2007–2008 school year. But in October 2004, a meeting of the CAF, officials from CPS, principals from six area firms, and admissions officers from the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois at Chicago made it clear that a new curriculum and book were in order. “We asked the question, ‘What can a student do with four years of drafting?' ” says Rehbein, who has a master's in urban policy from the University of Chicago. “No architecture firm hires rooms of draftspeople anymore,” says Masengarb, who studied architecture at the University of Detroit Mercy and the University of Virgina. “We needed to shift to a critical-thinking, design-based class.”

The first hurdle they encountered was not with the students. It was the realization that a lot of the teachers lacked the design background to teach such a comprehensive course. To create a book that both the teachers could teach and the students could learn from, Masengarb and Rehbein started a series of workshops with three types of people: volunteer architects who helped develop ideas, Newhouse students who came in every Monday night to test proposed activities, and teachers piloting the text in their classrooms. “The [volunteer architect] teams were divided into topic, based on their interest area,” says Masengarb. “They advised us on the big things the student needs to know. The challenge for us was to balance that with what's feasible with a roomful of 30 students that are 16.”

One student volunteer, Ricardo Escutia, was involved in the student advisory group from 2005–2006, but actually participated in the Newhouse Program for three years. “Since I was a little boy, I was constantly building things that I had designed,” Escutia says. “But being in the architecture curriculum at Lane Tech [High School] helped solidify my choice.” Escutia is now in his second year of a five-year professional B.Arch program at the Cooper Union in New York.

During the Monday night sessions, he and his fellow advisory board members were asked for their opinions on specific activities and the overall format of the text. “I think the [student] committee had a voice throughout the whole process, and our concerns are clearly shown in the book,” he says. “One major concern was the fact that there was no history of architecture in the old curriculum.” Now students learn basics that can serve as a foundation for their future education.

  • The New: The Architecture Handbook, Chicago Architecture Foundation, 2007, 462 pages

    Credit: Charlie Brown

    The New: The Architecture Handbook, Chicago Architecture Foundation, 2007, 462 pages
  • The New: The Architecture Handbook, Chicago Architecture Foundation, 2007, 462 pages

    Credit: Charlie Brown

    The New: The Architecture Handbook, Chicago Architecture Foundation, 2007, 462 pages


  • The Old: Architectural Drafting, Board of Education, City of Chicago, 1951, 78 pages

    Credit: Charlie Brown

    The Old: Architectural Drafting, Board of Education, City of Chicago, 1951, 78 pages
  • The Old: Architectural Drafting, Board of Education, City of Chicago, 1951, 78 pages

    Credit: Charlie Brown

    The Old: Architectural Drafting, Board of Education, City of Chicago, 1951, 78 pages

Looking to the future

The new text engages students. “It shows us examples of architecture that are relevant to our lives,” says Escutia. Instead of learning to draft a middle-class vacation home by rote, Newhouse students now can explore underlying principles of construction, design, and urbanism, using models like the F10 House, a sustainable Chicago row house designed by EHDD Architecture. To make the curriculum more useful for teachers, each architectural lesson ties into a basic Illinois state educational requirement for subjects such as math and languages.

“The [old] manual had a myopic focus on replicating obsolete examples,” says Polk. “This new book represents a sea change toward good design.” And engage students it will, by getting them off the computer and into discussions about design principles. “Just flipping through the book,” Polk adds, “stopping at pictures to read the captions, will vastly expand a student's knowledge about the profession.”

The Newhouse Program

The Newhouse Program, a staple of the Chicago Public School System with support from the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), has been exposing high school students to architecture for the last 25 years. In conjunction with the anniversary, the CAF released a new textbook for the program written by Jennifer Masengarb and Krisann K. Rehbein. Students from the program's past reflect on the old curriculum vs. the new, and how the Newhouse Program helped to focus their desire to pursue architecture in school and as a career.

Ricardo Escutia
Student, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art's Architecture School
New York

How long did you participate in the Newhouse Program, and how did you get involved in it?

I was involved for three years in the Newhouse Architecture Competition [2004-2007] and in the Student Advisory Committee for the development of the book between 2005-2006. I was first introduced to the program by my teacher at Lane Tech, Jesse Berlanga. He recommended that I participate in the open division category of the competition.

Do you think the program as it was set up under the old curriculum got you interested in pursuing architecture? Or is that something you had been leaning toward already?

I believe I had always been interested in architecture. Since I was a little boy, I was constantly building things that I had designed. However being in the architecture curriculum, at Lane Tech, helped solidify my choice. The curriculum itself did not solidify my choice but the atmosphere I was in did. I was lucky in that, I was supported by Jesse Berlanga, not only to finish the assigned work but to go out and explore the design world.

What were some of the things you got to participate in as a member of the student advisory committee for the development of the new text? Did the committee get a lot of input on the specific exercises and chapters?

I was asked for my opinion, based on work/personal experience what some of the exercises should be. I was also testing out some of the exercises in the book as well as giving feedback for the format of the book. I feel that the committee had a voice throughout the whole process, and our concerns are clearly shown in the book. One major concern was the fact that there was no History of Architecture in the old curriculum. The new curriculum teaches the students the basics that can help as a foundation for their future education.

How do you think the program will change under the new curriculum? Do you think it will be a change for the better?

I believe curriculum has changed for the better. It engages students by showing us examples of architecture work that are relevant to our time period and our way of life, that is urbanism.

  • Students like Ricardo Escutia on the advisory committee tried out new activities like coloring land-use maps to help rate their effectiveness at teaching principles. Their recommendations were heavily considered when putting together the final chapter selection in the new textbook.

    Credit: Charlie Brown

    Students like Ricardo Escutia on the advisory committee tried out new activities like coloring land-use maps to help rate their effectiveness at teaching principles. Their recommendations were heavily considered when putting together the final chapter selection in the new textbook.

What is your favorite/the most important thing that you think got included in the new curriculum?

An overall sense of independence. What I mean by this is that this book teaches us some of the fundamental principles of architecture which we, as young people, can then experiment with. This in turn will help enrich the tradition of architecture.

Rahman Polk
Architectural Technician
Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge, Chicago

How long were you in the Newhouse Program, and how did you become involved?

I was introduced to the Newhouse Program in my senior year of high school. My drafting teacher had just heard of it and entered several students he thought would benefit from the program. I rediscovered the program about three years ago and have been volunteering my time ever since. I've judged entries, read essays and participated in several workshops on behalf of the CAF.

What were some of the important lessons that you took away from the curriculum as it existed then?

There wasn't really a curriculum then, the objective was to interest Chicago Public School students in the fields of architecture and construction. When the competition was announced, teachers and students simply embarked on submitting work. There were a number of categories to choose from. A jury of architects and educators judged the work and awarded ribbons. I learned several important lessons through participating in the Newhouse Program. There wasn't much structure to the program in 1983/84 so I chose the categories to enter, the proposed project to be designed/drafted and made most other decisions with my drafting teachers help and guidance. Self-motivation and sufficiency were key issues along with effective communication of ideas through graphic presentation. These are all techniques that have served me well to this day.

Did your participation in the program help inform your college and career choices?

Yes, the program fostered a certain amount of independence and autonomy. After winning two ribbons and the only trophy I had ever received, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment and confidence. I always wanted to be an architect but the competition convinced me that becoming one was an obtainable goal. I started working at sixteen and hadn't really considered college until I entered the Newhouse competition.

Did you relate to the lessons you were learning, or was it more technical instruction?

At that time, (the program was in its infancy) the instruction I received was purely technical. The lessons learned where thus empirical but never the less, they were invaluable as an introduction to architectural practice.

Did you learn primarily from the textbook or were there other ancillary lessons that you took away from the experience with you? In other words, how much did your textbook direct your learning experience?

We had a drafting manual. The much-maligned fifty-year-old drafting textbook for a summer house with no garage, single pane windows and little insulation. The manual taught me how to hand draft, all other lessons learned were through seeing hard work being recognized and rewarded.

What do you think of the improvements, do you think that they will engage students on a different level?

Most certainly! As a member of CAF I got a sneak preview of the book and was inspired enough to volunteer help on the second phase of the book. The manual that preceded the book had a myopic focus on drafting and replicating obsolete examples. This book represents a sea change towards good design and a holistic approach to learning. Math, science and the social studies are all employed in an effort to actively engage students.

Do you think that the new program will leave students with a more comprehensive understanding of architecture by them end of their time in the program than the old curriculum did?

Just flipping through the book, stopping at a few pictures and reading the captions will vastly expand a student's knowledge about the profession. This book constitutes an extraordinary leap forward in my opinion.

What would you advise students who are now involved in the program or who will be in the future?

An architecture degree is very flexible and useful in many other careerpaths. The field is looking for creative problem solvers with open and inquisitive minds. Students who develop these skills will do well in architecture or a wide range of other professional careers.

Tania Franco
Third-year architecture student
University of Illinois at Chicago

How long did you participate in the Newhouse Program, and how did you get involved in it?

I participated for two years in the Newhouse competition while attending Lane Tech High School. And since then also became involved in the new curriculum design. I became involved in the competition when my Machine Drafting teacher allowed me to give the competition a try, to see if I could learn the programs and actually come up with a winning entry.

Do you think the program as it was set up under the old curriculum got you interested in pursuing architecture? Or is that something you had been leaning toward already?

In my case, yes it did. I was allowed to experiment with something that I had never been exposed to before. I created a design that allowed my teacher and I to see my potential in architecture, a career that had never crossed my mind before.

The old textbook was helpful to me in some ways, but it lacked the information that I needed to base my designs here in this time and age. I believe that this new book, is much better developed and can really help students further develop their understanding in the work that they will be required if they pursue the field of architecture.

What were some of the things you got to participate in as a member of the student advisory committee for the development of the new text? Did the committee get a lot of input on the specific exercises and chapters?

I was allowed to work with other students, and we were asked to try the activities that would be included in the text, and we would give feedback on how effective they were, and how they could be improved. We tried to provide as much feedback as possible in order to make this book very helpful for the students and teachers who would be using it.

How do you think the program will change under the new curriculum? Do you think it will be a change for the better?

I think the program will improve a lot under the new curriculum. This curriculum provides great exercises that will allow students to explore the different aspects of architecture. Brief excerpts of history accompany the text to set a base for comparison to our current styles of architecture. I really do think that the program will become even more successful now, with this new curriculum.

What is your favorite/the most important thing that you think got included in the new curriculum?

I really enjoy everything that is in this textbook, especially because I can open it and think back to when I was doing some of the exercises and how much fun I had with them. I think that pretty much everything that we, as a committee agreed was of major significance and helpful for the students was incorporated into the textbook.