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A Look at Swanky Rooftops, as Designed By Middle Schoolers

Welcome back to The Amateur Architect, wherein Curbed drops in on kids' summer classes hosted by The Center for Architecture Foundation in NYC. Now in its 10th year, Summer@theCenter offers 8 to 19-year-olds weeklong programs in such fields as dream-house designing (check it out!), architectural sketching, and skyscraper planning. This column will feature some of the stories, projects, and, of course, the young designers themselves, so, please, do follow along. Next up: Up on a Roof.

Inspiration for this batch of Center for Architecture Foundation summer students came from a class visit to NYC's Jimmy at the James, a rooftop bar—sorry, "contemporary interpretation of the classic pub, with a 1970's New York twist"—that sits 18 stories above Manhattan at The James hotel in Soho. The task given to the 11 to 14-year-olds? Build models for their own rendition of a rooftop space, done up to scale (Ian, the instructor, is a stickler about it) and with amenities like "stepped gardens" and "cantilevered terraces"—quite a leap in sophistication from the ambitions of the younger classes, which preferred chinchilla farms and trampoline rooms. These models boast careful, sophisticated details such as open floorplans, westward-facing glass walls ("to better see the Hudson," explains Grace, 12), and spiral staircases.

The students were given 20'x80' "lots" and two stories to start with. The first major choice was whether to do a hospitality space—a sushi restaurant, for example—or a home. Next they established scale and drew up blueprints. Ian offered them "a sort of kickback to get them thinking about principles of sustainability": for every square foot of rain-collecting space, like a terrace, on their first two floors, they get a square foot of third floor to play with. "At this age you can plan," Ian said. "Earlier? Forget about it."

First up, Livia, 13, who explains in a soft, deliberate voice her rather immaculate plans for a three-story stepped terrace—"when you've walked through the double doors into the master bedroom, you see all three gardens"—and interiors that are "open, but not too open" (below).


? "I wanted a lot of garden space, not just for the third floor, but because I have a lot of cats, so that's very important to me," Livia explains. Upon asking, she spoke of her friends' architect parents. "They show me what they're working on, and it's really cool." Included in her plans: an elevator, foyer, archways aplenty, and a tall planks of window. When asked, "Is this something you want to do..." Livia cuts in: "As a job?" Yes."


? What inspired the sushi restaurant plans Joey, 11, dreamed up? He blinks. "It's just fun. I don't know." Here there's room for a coat check, private elevator, rows of eating tables covered with umbrellas, koi ponds, and a (rather contentious) bar. ("Well at least my restaurant doesn't have a bar. With alcohol," a comrade chided.)


? Grace, 12, was sure to keep track of the views atop The James, incorporating a lot of glass to the south ("to see the Freedom Tower") and west ("to better see the Hudson"). Her plans included a screening room, a study/library, and what may be the spiffiest canopy bed around. She elaborates: "If you have a penthouse, you should make it nice because you're paying a lot of money for it."


? Justin, 14, gave a perfunctory tour of his glass-box residence, listing off his architectural add-ons, from the practical (he's the only one who included a mechanical closet for the central air, elevator, and heated pool) to the adventurous (he had big dreams for a cantilevered skatepark).


? "I'm into architecture. Well, I build a lot of Legos," qualifies Charlotte, 12, whose outdoor terraced restaurant comes complete with climber plants on trellises, a spiral staircase, and the ever-popular cocktail umbrella, a late-in-the-game option that threw the class into a tizzy of excitement. (Indeed, an unbridled enthusiasm for pink and orange paper parasols—"This man has umbrellas. This man has umbrellas. You there! This man has umbrellas."—never really goes away.) "Your umbrellas are bigger than your people," Livia remarks quietly, to no one in particular.

· Center for Architecture Foundation Summer Programming [official site]
· All Amateur Architects posts [Curbed National]