From Public Workshop’s Project Archives:
Project: Charter High School For Architecture And Design
Location: Philadelphia, PA.
Project Director: Alex Gilliam
The Charter High School for Architecture and Design (CHAD) in Philadelphia was opened in 1999 with the goal of using architecture and design to facilitate more effective learning of traditional subjects, and to encourage a greater awareness of good design and the built environment. In his capacity as the Director of Design, Alex Gilliam (Director of Public Workshop) assembled the Design Department, wrote the Design Department Curriculum, served as lead Department Chair for the school and designed projects, and events (with his awesome Design Department colleagues) that set up a general framework for school’s multidisciplinary learning approach. These projects and events focused on learning through doing, designing and making- integrating material from core subjects whenever possible.
A few of the notable projects at CHAD created by Alex Gilliam-
The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock served as a model for a project that required students to be ornithologists, psychiatrists and landscape architects. Students had to redesign The Birds protagonists’ backyard to encourage their interaction with a native bird as part of their post-attack intensive psychotherapy. For more information on this project click (here). This project was ultimately featured on Kurt Anderson’s radio show, Studio 360 (here) and taught as a master class to educators from across the country by Alex Gilliam at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum’s Summer Design Institute.
Wilt’s House required students to design a row home for Wilt Chamberlin (a native of Philadelphia) and his 4’ 8” grandmother. Students had to design spaces that were appropriately proportioned for Wilt and also his grandmother. This encouraged a more applied understanding of measurement, scale and proportion. Working and designing entirely through models encouraged students to utilize their intuitive sense of space and to teach themselves.
Kite Day was a twist on the typical ﬁeld day. In addition to kickball and limbo contests, in small teams every student in the school had to design and build a kite- to be tested during Kite Day. This was designed to reinforce the ethos of the school and to serve as a design diagnostic for evaluating students’ abilities across grade level. Academic teachers supplemented the design activity by creating lessons around the history and physics of kites. The pre-Kite Day testing process was rather remarkable with students running both around the school and up and down the neighboring alleys to test and refine their kites.
Collaborating With Texas Instruments, students evaluated new accessories for the TI-83 calculator and created prototype carrying cases for Texas Instruments’ new keyboard and calculator stand. As part of lead in to the project to get the students thinking about designing interactions and around a particular project, students made business card holders for Mr. Gilliam. Much to the chagrin of his parents, one of the students took apart the family VCR to harvest the rubber rollers that he ended up using to fashion a rolling ‘drawer’ for the business cards. Personally I felt a bit bad about the situation but the action of the drawer, for such a simple mock-up, was infectiously smooth.
CHAD Designs was a regular open house event that Alex Gilliam developed with his fantastic Design Department team to positively change and celebrate the culture of the school (raising the bar for the students and other faculty). Not just an exhibit of the students and teachers’ work, it provided a rare and much needed opportunity to celebrate their other interests and skills too.