ACE Chicago 2014

VOA-led student team redesigns Harold Washington Library.

It’s Thursday afternoon, approaching 5pm, and I’m already missing getting on a train and coming to our ACE meeting.  Mr. Lin, I will miss our sessions and all the mentors who have worked so hard and who I have come to know and really like. Congratulations to all of you for the work that went into our team winning the first runner-up in the competition. And thank you for helping me add this accolade to my resume. Please pass this message on to the other mentors for me. Thank you, again!


Matt F.”

As architects we regularly enjoy the professional rewards of seeing a project built or receiving recognition through an award, but real satisfaction doesn’t get much better than the note I received from a high school student last week.


Yao Lin and Team 1 members

Founded in 1994, the ACE (Architecture, Construction and Engineering) Mentor Program advises and instructs high school students interested in pursuing careers in design and construction. It reaches over 8,000 students annually nationwide and has awarded over $14 million in scholarships since its founding.  For the past three years VOA’s Chicago office has participated in the ACE mentoring program along with partners Clune Construction, Sargent & Lundy Engineering and Arcadis Owner Representation. We teach ACE students what it is like to be an architect, contractor or engineer and advise them on how to pursue careers in these fields after high school.  We guide them through the fundamentals of CAD, Sketchup, Photoshop, Revit and hone their presentation skills.  VOA’s ACE team of high-school juniors and seniors was drawn from Chicago-area schools including Senn, Lane Tech College Prep, Simeon Career Academy, William Fremd, Curie Metro, Lake Forest Academy, Perspectives and ACE Technical Charter.


ACE requires a considerable time commitment from both mentors and students but it’s a commitment that pays off. This year’s program ran each Thursday night from student orientation on October 29 through the final project presentation on April 2. Early in the program students visited each partner firm’s office to learn about their respective industries. VOA hosted sessions focused on developing studio and software skills and creating a design competition submittal. This year’s VOA ACE mentor team included myself, Breah Page, Nathan Sonoskey, Melissa Ogden, John Scherer, Joe Dietz, Steve Pantazis, Michael Loganbill and ACE Board Member Steve Siegle.


This spring our ACE Chicago Team participated in the Eighth Annual CIRT-ACE National Design Competition sponsored by the Construction Industry Round Table.  As our competition entry, we chose a library redesign. The challenge was to update a library and make it relevant to today’s high school students. We chose the nearby Harold Washington Library Center as our muse. Our group toured the space and visited the special collections to see the library’s original design competition drawings from the 1980s. Students voted to take on floors 1-3 for their redesign.  Among their criticisms of the existing space were its confusing circulation, uninviting exterior and lack of natural light. The student design solution features a three-story lobby with natural lighting, a retail café space and a music room.  Collaborating at VOA and in the cloud, as well as working in CAD and SketchUp, students produced everything from architectural plans to a sustainability diagram.

VOA’s Breah Page detailed the process of getting from concept to the final boards in a lively and advice-filled blog for participating students on the Ace website.


Team 1 added a three story atrium and exterior glass facades to its Harold Washington Library.

On April 2, Team 1 gave its final design presentation at the UIC Forum in front of other ACE students, mentors and family members.  Soon after, Team 1 was recognized by CIRT as First Runner-Up in the Library Relevance Challenge for their proposal to improve the Harold Washington Library Center. The $1,000 prize will go to the Chicago Chapter of ACE and be allocated to student scholarships next year. Scholarships and internships were also awarded at the Forum event. Team 1 participant Patty was awarded a position on the summer design build workshop team and a scholarship.  Another Team 1 student, Alexis, will be an intern at VOA during this summer. Every year VOA has participated, we’re proud to say, at least three of our students have been awarded scholarships.

media lab

Technological resources are made available to the public in the digital media center.

In ACE, the students have a wonderful opportunity; one I didn’t have in high school. To step through our doors, attend class in an architecturally significant building and work in a stimulating studio environment is to embark on a true and meaningful education. I love helping to make that possible. It’s a lot of time and work, but to see a student’s eyes light up when their work comes together gives me a sense of gratification that’s indescribable. I look forward to our next program session and meeting our next group of ACE students.

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