by andrew costanzo, teen programs manager

National Building Museum teen programs use design as a framework to teach local youth not only how to closely observe the world around them, but also how to be agents of change who have the confidence to help shape their communities. Whether planning active development sites in CityVision, learning how to create a sense of “home” through design for families in transitional housing in the Design Apprenticeship Program, or tracing how a neighborhood’s history impacts its current development in Investigating Where We Live, these programs seek to make the design process relevant to our participants’ everyday lives.

Our most recent endeavor, Teen Council, has taken the next logical step in empowering a group of highly dedicated teens to take an active role in shaping their own experiences within the Museum. Now in its fourth year, the Teen Council participants have elected their own leadership, and continue to find ways to grow as designers and as leaders in the Museum.


“[Before the program] I enjoyed working alone because I did not have to compromise, make sacrifices, or incorporate others’ ideas. Becoming a participant in Investigating Where We Live has changed that for me. Now, I would much rather prefer to work in a group, have more helping hands, receive and give feedback, consider other teammates’ ideas and simply enjoy the good company of others.”

Investigating Where We Live participant, 17 years old

Our partnerships with community organizations strengthen this direct connection and provide expertise that aids research and understanding of challenges faced by communities. In FY13, the Transitional Housing Corporation connected families in their program with furniture designed and built by our teen participants. The District Department of Transportation provided mentors and access to development projects, like the air rights above Union Station, which highlighted the real challenges that cities face as they grow. The National Park Service and Historical Society of Washington offered an opportunity to learn from original documents and primary sources, which were then applied to exhibition design.


“To me, CityVision is an extremely rare experience. Not many 7th graders get to do this, and since we do we will have knowledge that will stick with us for a long time. At CityVision, we have learned many things including what it takes to create a building and plan city streets.”

CityVision participant, 13 years old


One Design Apprenticeship Program participant summed up these goals in her evaluation of the program: “[The Spring 2013 session] was probably my favorite Design Apprenticeship Program so far. I really got to know better the people I was working with and I felt together that we created something that can really be used in the family’s lives.”

By grappling with real life issues and design challenges, the incredibly diverse group of teens that gather in our studio learn how to work collaboratively and creatively with others as they grow to become the next generation of designers, engaged citizens, and problem solvers.




The National Building Museum’s teen outreach programs are generously supported by the National Endowment for the Arts; The William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation; the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation; the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, an agency supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts; Hattie M. Strong Foundation; MARPAT Foundation, Inc.; Teknion; Forest City Washington; Clark Charitable Foundation; McGraw Hill Financial; Prince Charitable Trusts; The Tower Companies; and an anonymous donor. Geppetto Catering, Inc. is the official Meal Provider for Teen Programs at the National Building Museum.

Images: Photos by Museum staff.


Visitors to Investigating Where We Live exhibition




Teen Program Participants


Total hours spent learning about design, architecture, urban planning, fabrication, or photography






Total Volunteer Hours