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Each of the 20,000 students that Chicago Architecture Center serves every year has his or her own story.

Some are young children discovering architecture for the first time. Then there are 10-year-olds at a CAC Summer Camp, exploring architecture through design challenges and model-making. And still others are high school graduates, pursuing college degrees in design, science and the arts.

CAC Comes to Class

Former Teen Fellow Xochitl Castel first encountered CAC in 2013, while still a busy student at Lane Tech College Prep on Chicago’s north side. CAC’s annual Newhouse Architecture & Design Competition had been integrated into Xochitl’s high school architecture class by her Lane Tech instructor, and Xochitl would go on to enter the Newhouse competition in the Spring of 2014. “High school taught me the technical skills,” Xochitl told us later. “Being involved with CAC allowed me to express my artistic ideas unlike classroom assignments.” 

Through her connection with CAC, Xochitl took part in the After School Matters program, which invites high school students to work over the summer as camp counselors and activity facilitators at citywide festivals. But CAC offerings would soon take Xochitl well beyond Chicago’s downtown architectural treasure trove, to experience famed American buildings much farther afield. 

Visiting the Masterworks 

She’d travel to Plano, Illinois, and the site of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, a glassy, modernist minimal masterpiece completed in 1951. “Trips to historic buildings opened my eyes to the world of preservation and restoration,” Xochitl said. “I had no idea this kind of work existed and now I think about it often in college classes.” 

Specifically, college classes at Illinois Institute of Technology, where Xochitl began studying architecture in the Fall of 2015. By then, she’d interned at an architecture firm and taken part in CAC’s pilot Teen Fellow program, which brought Xochitl—and other youthful design enthusiasts like her—to encounters with a pair of world-renowned works by architect Frank Lloyd Wright: Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona.  

“The people that worked at giving tours of these buildings were so excited and compassionate about the architecture that it made me feel the same way,” Xochitl reported. “They care so much about a building and spent their lives preserving and restoring it. [It] gave me a sense of clarity...I have the power to make a difference.”

Xochitl Castel’s story—her journey through CAC and into the wide world of architecture and design—is one that we’ll continue to follow closely. It’s just one example among thousands to show that hands-on, personal and educational experiences with the built world really can make a difference to students of any age.


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