Archinect
Boston Architectural College (BAC)

Boston Architectural College (BAC)

Boston, MA

anchor

BAC Alumna Is Cofounder of Nonprofit Bringing Design to Los Angeles Communities

By deancascieri
Jul 13, '18 10:46 AM EST
Adrienne Ott
Adrienne Ott

Adrienne Ott, M.Arch '11, has only been a designer at world renowned architect Frank Gehry's firm, Gehry Partners, in Los Angeles, California, for nine months, but she was part of the team that worked on Facebook's New York City Instagram office. She was part of the team that did renovations for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Now, she's on the team designing Facebook's Menlo Park campus. And though her work projects are high profile, challenging, and incredibly rewarding to be part of, Adrienne has found another way to challenge herself, help others, and feel fulfilled through architecture and design projects.

Originally from State College, Pennsylvania, Adrienne knew by the time she was a teenager that she wanted to become an architect. "As a teenager, I became interested in how the built environment can positively impact society through resources, shelter, and a sense of cultural pride. This is when I made the choice to become an architect to help create positive change in people's lives with sustainable and just architecture," Adrienne says.

She went on to earn her Bachelor of Integrative Arts from Penn State University before coming to The Boston Architectural College (BAC) for her Master of Architecture. While at the BAC, Adrienne's thesis advisor David Silverman, B.Arch '94, introduced her to Youthbuild, an international organization that teaches low-income young people construction skills through building affordable housing for homeless and low-income people in their neighborhoods and other community assets such as schools, playgrounds, and community centers. Here, she was able to begin to help make positive changes in people's lives by volunteering as a teacher, working part- and full-time at Youthbuild Boston, Youthbuild Waukegan in North Chicago, and then at Prologue Youthbuild and Blacks in Green in Southside Chicago, before relocating to Los Angeles for her position at Gehry Partners.

In the spring and summer of 2017, Adrienne, a USGBC Certified Green Professional Trainer, completed a part-time teaching position at Compton Youthbuild before graduating with a Post Grad Design of Cities degree from the Southern California Institute of Architects. With her full-time workload at Gehry Partners, Adrienne was unable to continue teaching at Compton Youthbuild because they only offered classes during the week when she was at work. She really wanted to continue working with underserved youth, so in the fall of 2017, she and five of her coworkers decided to start their own nonprofit, Ecocity Studios, as a way to teach underserved youth in the Los Angeles area about architecture and design.

"As Black, Latinx, women, low-income people, and others in the design field, my colleagues and I acknowledge inequalities in the architecture profession and how one must work twice as hard to be considered for the same position as others. In 2017, a study conducted by the National Council of Architectural Registration Board stated that only 2% of registered architects are Black or African American, 3% of registered architects are Latino or Latina and 19% of registered architects are women," says Adrienne.

In order to provide more opportunities for under-represented people in the design field, Adrienne and her colleagues created EcoCity Studios, a non-profit organization that offers accessible green building and sustainable design training and resources to underserved youth and communities, including education in 3d modeling, energy modeling, and 3d printing. They work with local youth programs to encourage students to consider sustainable architecture, environmental design, green technology, and similar fields as a way to achieve economic mobility and diversify the design field at large. Through just and sustainable design education and community redevelopment projects, EcoCity Studios aims to help neighborhoods transform their environment into healthier, safer, and greener cities to live, work, and play.

With EcoCity Studios, Adrienne and her coworkers also wanted to "create a nonprofit that offers weekend design classes for underserved youth, while also creating more opportunities for design professionals to serve and connect with their communities." Adrienne is thrilled by the response of her coworkers at Gehry Partners, "as many of them are excited to get involved by donating their time and skills to help teach our community and increase justice and diversity in the design field."

In just a few months, EcoCity Studios has already had an impact on the local community. "One of the advantages of having EcoCity Studios as a separate nonprofit entity is that it allows my colleagues and I to teach underserved students from all of the Youthbuild programs across Los Angeles County, as well as reach out to local youth that may not have the resources or time to enroll in Youthbuild's program but have time to attend our class on Saturdays."

Adrienne and her EcoCity Studios colleagues love seeing the impact their classes have on the students. "The response from the students has been pure excitement and curiosity. Last month, my colleagues and co-instructors at EcoCity Studios, Dana McKinney, Joseph Veliz, and I presented 3D home models in SketchUp and 3D printing time lapses to the students enrolled in Youthbuild to showcase what they will learn during the weekend class we started teaching in May. During the presentation, the students were wide-eyed with an overflow of questions to learn more about the class projects and how they may sign up."

Starting a nonprofit like this doesn't come without its challenges though. One major challenge is having enough resources to accommodate the amount of youth that want to participate in the classes. "There are an abundance of youth who wish to pursue green design and 3D technology who have never been given the opportunity or resources to do so. We have a high volume of students who wish to take the class, and unfortunately we may only accept 5-10 students due to lack of computers. We hope to expand the nonprofit to be able to teach classes of 30 in the future as we acquire more computers through donations."

As EcoCity Studios grows, Adrienne continues to be inspired by her students and motivated by the successful outcomes of the classes and workshops. "I've seen students gain a new sense of pride and confidence in their work and themselves while being more consciously aware of their role in protecting the environment. As they learn how to support sustainability through cost saving conservation and weatherization methods they become sustainability leaders in their communities and at home. I've also seen students receive jobs based off their 3D model rendering portfolios and knowledge of 3D modeling or drafting from the class. This green design class has also assisted students in gaining entry into college programs to continue their study in architecture, computer technology, art and/or design."

Adrienne and her colleagues are currently in the process of filing for their 501c3 nonprofit status while EcoCity Studios recently caught the attention of Frank Gehry himself. "My colleague and co-instructor at EcoCity Studios, Dana McKinney, was writing an email to Frank Gehry and his assistant/firm principal Meaghan Lloyd. As Dana was writing the email, Frank happened to be walking by her desk, and he read the email describing our work, and how we wanted to meet with him and Meaghan to discuss possible ways for the firm to get involved and support the project. He immediately gave EcoCity Studios a literal thumbs up with a huge smile and a nod. It was amazing! We then met with Meaghan, along with Joseph Veliz, co-instructor and colleague at EcoCity Studios, and now have the firm's full support. We have access to Frank's studio to give our students a tour of the space, as well as donations and modeling materials from the firm for our class."

Now Adrienne and her team are looking ahead to summer where they already have big things planned, including hosting a one-day workshop for adults over 25 years old and seniors interested in learning green design, sustainability, 3D modeling, and green technology. They are also creating a summer class to promote healthy eating and water conservation through hydroponic gardening. Using SketchUp 3D modeling, students will create 3D model hydroponic garden design ideas using recycled shipping pallets, and then build their designs in the garden at the Center for Sustainable Communities in Compton.

It has taken a lot of work to get to where she is, but Adrienne is extremely proud of what she and her colleagues have accomplished. "The process has been so amazing. I am so grateful to Frank Gehry, Meaghan Lloyd, my colleagues at Gehry Partners', and the community's support for the project. We are excited to see how Ecocity Studios grows, and how these classes and workshops can continue to support and inspire the local community."

EcoCity Studios

EcoCity Studios

EcoCity Studios

EcoCity Studios

EcoCity Studios

EcoCity Studios

Photos from recent EcoCity Studios classes, workshops, and
events. All photos courtesy of Adrienne Ott, Dana McKinney, and Tarun
Hari.