Pipeline to the Future:
Project Pipeline Camp
Exposes Kalamazoo Students
to Careers in Architecture


How do you get young students excited about the potential for a career in architecture?  Provide them with a hands-on opportunity to design projects, interact with mentor architects, and learn what it takes to become an architect (and make it a free program so that all students can participate).

That’s the purpose of Project Pipeline, an initiative of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) to introduce more minorities to the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. Members of NOMA Detroit, Kalamazoo region hosted a three-day Project Pipeline architecture day camp this year for students ages 11 to 18, on the campus of Western Michigan University. 2022 marked the 5th year of Project Pipeline camp in Kalamazoo; the camp is a multi-year recipient of MAF’s Architecture Awareness Grants (along with NOMA Detroit’s Project Pipeline camps). Due to Covid, the camp was virtual in 2021 (and held in conjunction with NOMA Detroit).

“This year, we had 15 students from the Kalamazoo area who participated, ranging from sixth grade to recent high school graduates,” said Hayward Babineaux, Associate AIA, NOMA Director of Project Pipeline’s Kalamazoo camp, and an architectural associate at Byce & Associates. Students worked with volunteer program instructors and mentors, including architects, engineers, interior designers, and related professions, the majority of which were also minorities.

“Project Pipeline is essentially architecture on steroids,” exclaims Babineaux. “A lot of hands-on experiences are packed into a short time frame, which give students a good overview of what it is like to be an architect.” Students learn about measuring a site to scale and get to decide how they think the space would be best utilized. They are also encouraged to think about the concept of community architecture, which includes consideration of areas like social justice, historical disparities, and environmental impact.

Students are assigned a particular building or site to focus on; this year, it was downtown Kalamazoo’s Arcadia Festival site. “The site is used for summer performances, festivals, and other activities, and it needs some updating. As a result, it provided a perfect opportunity to have the students re-imagine the site and how to reinvigorate it.”

Students were divided into four teams, and each team created their own concepts and designs.  Mentors guided the teams to deliver a site plan, floor plan, elevations, a perspective drawing, and a model and site model of their design.  Each team made a final presentation, explaining their concepts and designs before their families and a three-person jury comprised of Michael Flynn, AIA of Byce & Associates, Inc., Jacqueline Slaby, Neighborhood Activator for the City of Kalamazoo, and Nathan Mech, Program Outreach Project Manager at The Acton Institute.  Awards were given to Best Overall, Best Presenters, Most Innovative Idea, and Best Thematic.

While Project Pipeline is open to all students, enrolling minority students in the program remains the primary focus. “There are less than 2,500 licensed African American architects in the United States, and less than 500 African American female architects,” says Hayward. Overall, only two percent of all licensed architects in the U.S. are African American, which is clear evidence of the racial disparity within the industry.” (Asians represent 13.8% and Hispanic/Latino 9.9% of licensed architects in the U.S.). Hayward notes that exposing young students to careers in architecture through programs like Project Pipeline, and having minority professionals serve as program leaders and helps students envision their own future potential as architects.

Hayward also says that the long-term goal is to move Project Pipeline from a summer camp to a year-round program that keeps students engaged with architecture firm tours, creative design-related activities, and connected to architects and related professionals. “Project Pipeline is all about mentorship, so developing year-round activities for students is a natural progression.”

Ultimately, Project Pipeline serves a diverse population of students, all of whom are underrepresented in the design field, and better prepares them for college and life beyond. Said Hayward, “Through Project Pipeline, young people grasp the significance of architecture in their daily lives, as well as the broader cultural, social, and historical implications. Regardless of whether they decide to pursue architecture as a career, they develop skills and tools to contribute to their community critically and constructively.”

For more on Project Pipeline: https://www.noma.net/project-pipeline