To tackle architecture’s diversity problem, USC leaders open doors to local youth

September 8, 2021

Contact: Ron Mackovich, rmackovi@usc.edu or (213.440.1665) 810-8583

The USC School of Architecture has launched A-LAB, a first-of-its-kind college prep program for Los Angeles Unified High School Students. A-LAB aims to attract underrepresented L.A. students to architecture by providing an engaging curriculum, firm and building site visits, mentorship and more.

Reinforcing its commitment to driving diversity in the field of architecture, the University of Southern California School of Architecture today announced the A-LAB Architecture Development Program, a college preparatory program designed to attract underrepresented high school students in Los Angeles to architecture. Developed in collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District (Los Angeles Unified), A-LAB will offer a rigorous and immersive collegelike academic experience for Los Angeles Unified high school juniors each year. Students will meet with A-LAB faculty for three hours daily during the semester-long program to develop an aptitude for architecture thinking, execute design projects based in Los Angeles, and gain exposure to design professionals and academics involved in architecture and related design disciplines. A-LAB is sponsored in part by the USC Good Neighbors Campaign.

A cohort of students from Los Angeles Unified’s Foshay Learning Center has been accepted into the fall 2021 inaugural class. The USC School of Architecture plans to expand the program in future semesters to accommodate additional students and high schools. The program is offered at no cost to admitted students.

“USC Architecture is committed to empowering underprivileged youth in Los Angeles. A-LAB is designed to engage underrepresented students in Los Angeles by instilling in them the competence and confidence they need to become design professionals and leaders,” said Milton S. F. Curry, dean of USC School of Architecture. “Our goal is to inspire and help these students—future citizen architects—prepare for college while also empowering them to think creatively about the challenges that face architects, landscape architects and designers today and into the future.”

Real-world issues, professional development and college prep

A-LAB’s engaging and stimulating curriculum will focus on three distinct components:

  • Studio Architecture: Project-based work examining architecture’s role in shaping culture. Projects will look at real-world problems and social issues impacting the Los Angeles community, encouraging students to explore, imagine and impact the areas in which they live.
  • WorkOut: A course module on professional development and exposure. This module encourages students to understand the larger field of architecture, design and construction, and see themselves within it.
  • NetworkU: A course module on college preparation and college application preparation. Students will receive academic support and mentorship to enable them to succeed in applying to college, attending college and becoming design leaders.

USC Architecture Associate Professor Lauren Matchison will serve as A-LAB program director. To attract additional teachers for the program, the USC School of Architecture will offer a competitive postgraduate Citizen Architect Fellowship program. Fellows will be selected each year to serve a two-year term, and will teach at A-LAB and USC Architecture.

“The Los Angeles Unified and USC Architecture A-LAB partnership is an amazing opportunity for our students. Authentic learning opportunities on USC’s campus for Los Angeles Unified students will foster critical thinking, a college-going culture, and empower students for future life success,” said Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, chief academic officer for Los Angeles Unified. “Under the joint leadership of Dean Milton Curry and Director Lauren Matchison, our students in the Foshay school community will thrive and this sets the foundation for future expansion.”

Giving diversity an early start in Architecture

According to the most recent American Institute of Architects “Diversity in the Profession of Architecture” report, only 3% of licensed architects in the U.S. are Latino, and fewer than 2% are Black. One of the best strategies for attracting and retaining more non-white architects is to improve awareness of architectural careers in middle and high schools.

“We want to diversify the pipeline of those interested in entering the field of architecture, so we designed A-LAB to appeal to students of all identities and those considering a wide range of future academic disciplines,” stated Matchison.

USC School of Architecture worked with Frederick Fisher and Partners (FF&P) to transform the school’s Verle Annis Gallery into a flexible classroom, lecture, critique and gallery space for the program. Alongside the design for the learning space, FF&P collaborated with Stephen Billings Landscape Architecture to re-envision the adjacent courtyard as a more inviting space for student gatherings and outdoor lectures, as well as a teaching lab that demonstrates sustainable solutions for hardscape and water management.

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Image credit: Priscilla Mars