How did 19 High School Students Design a 60-Floor, Mixed-Use Tower in Center City, Philly?

And how was it one of the “Most Innovative Hands-on Projects,” as recognized by the White House’s US2020 STEM Mentoring Awards Program?

Visualization of building design (massing) exercises

Certainly, support from the students’ personal lives, accessibility through the ACE Mentor Program, and seven A/E/C professionals dedicating their free time to engage young minds helped. Half a year of team-building with hands-on exercises, interactive brainstorm sessions, extensive guidance on technical process, and successfully unleashing the creative prowess within the high school seniors paved the way to the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

An exercise in structural engineering — using only popsicle sticks and marshmallows.

The recognized project, Comcast Tower II (Re-imagined), was the brainchild of 19 students (“ACE Team 6”) from G.W. Carver High School of Engineering & Science in North Philadelphia. During 15 sessions over the course of six months, mentors from KSS, Gilbane, Keast & Hood, and Schrader Group exposed students to a broad spectrum of design-related issues.

One session required competitive and creative (and balanced) building of models, using only popsicle sticks and marshmallows. Another week aimed to familiarize students with the process of producing interior finish board collages. Another, learning about the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED checklist, and applying LEED principles to sustainable building design. With hands-on methods, the team of students contributed to group discussions and the mentors synthesized input into one collective voice.

Over the 15 meetings, a truly phenomenal, powerful voice emerged. Collected and shared precedent images informed design choices. Student hands drafted site plans — which were then evaluated, compared, and approved with group consensus. Residential, office, and retail programs were played with, illustrated, and unified into a 60-story whole. With 55 points, the tower was on a hypothetical track to attain LEED Silver Certification. A green roof topped the entire effort off. Needless to say, the final presentation captured the tremendous growth in and application of A/E/C knowledge in Team 6 — wrapped within a positive social and recreational experience.

Visualization of site analysis and design exercises
Summary of Program + Massing Exercise

From the 9 teams in Philadelphia, Team 6 and its unique voice was specifically tapped to represent ACE nationwide in the 2015 US2020 STEM Mentoring Awards. As part of the greater goal to build and sustain a quality-driven STEM mentoring movement, the organization awards programs that successfully engage STEM professionals with youth — with a particular focus on underserved and underrepresented students.

Student-programmed retail spaces of Comcast Tower II (Re-imagined)

The resulting community of companies, organizations, schools, agencies, and cities strive to achieve collaborations similar to Team 6’s half-year project. The ACE Mentor Program of Eastern PA, represented by Team 6, was named one of six finalists in the “Most Innovative Hands-on Project” category — competing with 80 organizations from 30 cities.

Student-programmed office spaces of Comcast Tower II (Re-imagined)
Student-programmed entertainment spaces of Comcast Tower II (Re-imagined)

With the 2015 recognition, students from Team 6 were awarded 4 out of the 9 college scholarships given out each year by the regional ACE affiliate. The majority are now pursuing undergraduate educations in related fields at higher education institutions across the United States. Some have connected with their mentors through professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, preparing for their prosperous careers early on.

KSS ACE Mentors are now working with a new group of students, who actively participate in exercises and brainstorm in group discussions tailored to their own voice. As the individual students from Team 6 further transition into their futures, ACE Mentors are aiming for another year of White House-worthy projects that cater to student interests, experience level, and potential to grow.

Now, this re-imagined tower is just waiting for permits, approvals, the right funding, and a reasonable construction bid to break ground. While Comcast Tower II (Re-imagined) remains a playful, albeit impressive, teenage vision, there’s a likely chance that in the next couple decades, some of the talented students may become leaders in the A/E/C industry — with this ACE Mentor project as only one example on their prolific experience history.

ACE Team 6 Members

Background

For years, KSS employees have committed their time to mentoring with ACE. To support ACE’s mission of engaging, exciting, and enlightening students to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, and construction, KSS employees serve as practicing professionals to inspire the new generation. Being part of the ACE Mentor Program is one of KSS’s avenues to creating community impact, supporting young professional growth, and spreading the passion of architecture (and the entire A/E/C industry). Last year’s inspiration Team 6 mentors included Christina Marconi, Jordan Mrazik, and Petar Mattioni from KSS’s Philadelphia office.

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