I had the chance to chat with Emily Pilloton to learn more about Project H, her nonprofit design and architecture program for students. Emily is an architect and teacher who is spreading the word about the importance of STEM and design for students from all walks of life; she shared her passion for this cause in TED Talks, on The Colbert Report and in the New York Times, to name a few! I asked her quite a few questions about her background as well as the progress of Project H.
Name: Emily Pilloton
Title: Founder & Executive Director of Project H
How long have you been in the engineering/architecture industry?
“I’ve been in architecture for about 16 years. I started in this field as an undergrad at UC Berkeley and continued my studies in architecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After graduate school in Chicago, I started my own furniture company and worked in retail/commercial architecture for a few years. During that time I realized that architecture, as it is normally practiced, was not doing enough to fulfill me or to serve others. I truly feel that architecture should be centered around humans, it should improve life, and it should bring people together. I felt a disconnect between the architecture industry I was a part of and how I felt architecture and architects should interact with their surroundings. I founded Project H in 2008 out of a frustration, and a hope and belief that design and architecture can empower people to build their own futures and communities. Especially for young people, these are powerful tools.”
What is Project H?
“Since I was little, I’ve always been interested in architecture and buildings, as well as math and science. Over time I really found that I like the human component of architecture: building something for someone. I strongly believe that architecture should be a source for good and a source for learning and so I really wanted to engage with the world as an architect and I wanted others to do the same, this is a huge reason why Project H was born.
Project H is a non-profit design and education organization. It has changed form and evolved a lot over the past eight years, but the heart of it has always remained the same: a commitment to using design and architecture in spaces where it doesn’t normally exist, with young people. All of our projects with our students start with an idea and end with a piece of architecture; this allows the students, as well as the teachers/staff, to take part in every aspect of the idea, design and creation of each project. We have a very small team and we do all of the work ourselves, we are in the classrooms teaching, we are on the sites building; we do everything from start to finish. I believe that is what architecture and teaching can be. We have built a farmers market, two micro homes, a school library, an outdoor shipping container classroom, laser-etched skateboards, public furniture and more.”
Why did you start to use Lenovo Workstations?
“To be honest, in the past we’ve really ebbed and flowed with the use of our technology because our classroom does favor the analog, and the hand-mind connection (hand saws, drafting tables, etc.), but over the past few years we’ve also recognized the importance of technology in the lives and futures of our students, and this includes the classroom. At its core, design and architecture is a way of thinking, high or low technological tools are a way to solve problems. We felt like we would be doing our kids a disservice by not bringing the latest architectural and engineering technologies into the classroom, because if these students should decide to pursue a career or studies in architecture, we want them to understand how to use both analog and highly technical tools in their trade. We started using Lenovo Workstations for our high-end software packages, we currently use the Autodesk (generally AutoCAD for drafting) and Adobe Suite of products (Illustrator for sketches), because they can really bare the load of our designs/renders. Also, to be fair, we work with kids and kids can destroy things; Lenovo systems have been rugged and reliable, withstanding our teenage students every day.”
What is next for you and your team?
“First, every year Project H grows in numbers, enrollment in 2008 was 10 students, this year in 2015, we are up to 275 in our academic class and 150 in after school, so our goal is to have the teaching capacity to continue to grow and sustain our program. Next, our largest point of growth in our program is Camp H, our after school and summer school girls building programs. In these programs we really want to recruit 9-13 year old girls who don’t have access to STEM or design opportunities, or who are just super interested in creative building skills. We do welding, carpentry, masonry and electronics projects with them. Lastly, we want our programs to become more rooted in research, data collection and self-assessment. We want our students to be able to see the progress they are making throughout the program. We are digging to learn how to not only measure their progress, but create more steps for them to grow with us and the program.”
For more on Emily Pilloton and Project H, check out their website: www.projecthdesign.org. Also, keep an eye out on their twitter handle, @ProjectHDesign, for behind the scenes updates on the classroom projects and after school program!