Michigan Architecture Prep

Building Equity

The University of Michigan Architecture Preparatory Program (ArcPrep) provides Detroit Public School juniors with an immersive, semester-long college preparatory course in architecture, urbanism, and studio design. Meeting three hours per day, five days a week over the course of a semester, U-M ArcPrep works to broaden career horizons, meet future demand, and bring diverse voices into the fields of architecture, planning, and design by serving students typically underrepresented in American architecture schools and thus the profession of architecture.

During this semester, students engage in a rigorous academic program that introduces fundamental studio design tools. The course strengthens participants’ ability to translate observations about the world into visual and spatial language and, through a spatial justice lens, works to expand students’ sense of agency in the built environment. Students receive instruction through a series of thematic, interrelated modules structured to deliver fundamental design and research methodologies, offer techniques for critical analysis, shed light on the profession and its affiliate fields, and demonstrate pathways to design education.

ArcPrep’s Curriculum

The main components of the program include:

DESIGN STUDIO: Includes assignments in mathematics & visual art through a wide range of digital and analog methods, paired with lectures from U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning faculty.

SELF-EXPRESSION & CREATIVE PRACTICE: Presents a set of rotating topical modules offering students modes of critical analysis to understand the forces that shape the built environment. Exercises encourage students to contemplate and reimagine architecture’s part in the construction of an equitable society.

PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE: Connects students with a range of leading professionals invited from the fields of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning and Design, Art, Activism, and Community Advocacy to trace the myriad of professional pathways available through design education.

MENTORSHIP AND COUNSELING: Offers individual and group academic and career counseling that includes workshops on pathways to secondary education, financing college, and producing a competitive college application essay and portfolio.

BUILDING SOCIETY: A month-long final project focusing on the re-imagination of a public institution, with the understanding that designers inflect dynamic social conditions within building walls and beyond.

Project Based Learning

Education practitioners, policymakers, and researchers concur that architecture in particular is an exemplary project-based learning discipline – one which teaches the practical tools of counting, scaling, debating, and organizing – encouraging students to engage in both high-level thinking and hands-on production. Within a studio-based, college-level work environment, ArcPrep builds on knowledge in mathematics and the visual arts, applying creative methodologies to real-life community endeavors. Through direct engagement, the program delivers design tools that empower, benefiting students who are typically relegated to a privileged few.

ArcPrep’s current curriculum is broken into five modules:

1. Tool Box

The Tool Box module introduces students to the discipline of architecture, inviting them to explore the contemporary analog and digital tools professional designers use to actualize their ideas. 2D & 3D representation techniques are honed through sketching, model making, and the use of software packages including Rhinoceros 3D and the Adobe Creative Suite.  Through iterative design exercises, students develop a technical proficiency necessary to complete a sophisticated final project.

2. Food, Culture, and Access

The Food, Culture, and Access module introduces students to the concept of spatial justice in relation to food as a right, a material of cultural expression and a component of a broader urban network, touching on the social, economic, and environmental implications of food systems. Through a series of lectures, presentations and workshops, the module will address current topics around food insecurity/equity and explore ways architecture and design can serve to make positive change.

3. Institutions and Civil Liberties

The goal of the Institutions and Civil Liberties module is to imbue students with a sense of agency to critique the harmful institutions that structure the world around them, envision alternative futures, and put those visions into practice. It will also instruct students about how people who have been directly impacted by the carceral system have marshaled creative expression to critique that system and put forth their own visions for their communities. The module is structured around three creative modalities: writing, visual art, and community building. Each section of the module introduces students to individuals and activists who have used that modality and provides students with opportunities to practice that modality themselves.

4. Technology and the City

This module introduces students to the topics of urban data and digital infrastructure. Throughout, they are encouraged to think at a range of scales – from the body to the city. The goal is to be realistic about the challenges and contemporary political issues surrounding digital infrastructure in Detroit, but to also make students feel empowered. They will be introduced to a range of ways to intervene in the digital infrastructure of the city, from hands-on technology tutorials, to understanding digital media as a vehicle for joy or aesthetic pleasure, to activism surrounding the way that digital technology is – or should be – implemented in Detroit. 

5. Building Society: Applied Final Project

Each year, ArcPrep selects an institution for students to reimagine. The branch library has been tabbed this academic year, as the library system in Detroit finds itself under unprecedented burden and pressure. Only six of 21 branches are slated to reopen in the Fall of 2021, after funding shortfalls, accentuated by the challenges of an ongoing pandemic, have strained a beloved civic institution.  Students will be asked to consider the future of branch libraries – their alterations, sustainability, social obligations, and civic role both in Detroit and more broadly.

/ Personnel

Under the directorship of Yojairo Lomeli, ArcPrep Program Director and Anya Sirota, associate dean of Academic Initiatives, ArcPrep is led by Michigan Mellon design fellows and supplemented by an educational ecosystem composed of prominent academics from the University of Michigan. Additionally, the program is strengthened through its Detroit partnerships, bringing leading design firms, community advocates, artists, and civic leaders into the classroom.

Salam Rida, ArcPrep Co-Director

Salam is responsible for the development of the ArcPrep curriculum; administration of the Michigan Research Studio and digital dissemination platforms; coordination of graduate teaching assistants and invited faculty; and other outreach activities.

Torri Smith, ArcPrep Co-Director

Torri Smith is a Detroit based designer, artist and educator; her investigations span from environmental justice and design biology to storytelling and urban placemaking.

Academic Initiatives Team

Anya Sirota, Associate Dean of Academic Initiatives

Jacob Comerci, Project Manager for Academic Initiatives

Ishan Pal Singh, New Media Specialist

Past Fellows

  • Missy Ablin
  • Allen Gillers
  • Youngtack Oh
  • Suzanne Lettieri
  • Julie Pedtke
  • Paulina Reyes
  • Salam Rida
  • Torri Smith
  • Sara Timberlake

Select Professional Partners

  • 313 Creative
  • Berardi Partners
  • Equity in Architectural Education Consortium
  • Fielding International
  • Gensler
  • Hamilton Anderson and Associates
  • National Organization of Minority Architects
  • Rossetti
  • Smith Group

Partnering Cultural Institutions

  • 400 Forward
  • A Host of People
  • Design Core Detroit
  • Detroit Institute of Art
  • Detroit Public Library
  • Kresge Arts
  • Oakland Avenue Urban Farm
  • Scarab Club
  • Sidewalk Festival
  • Power House Productions

Select Academic Partners

  • Cornell University
  • University of Detroit Mercy
  • Lawrence Technological University

ArcPrep Awards and Career Opportunities

Academic Achievement Award

The Academic Achievement Award is granted to up to five students per semester who have exhibited exemplary maturity and work ethic contributed to an intellectual and collegial environment and shown independent and innovative thinking in the execution of project assignments and public presentations.

Academic Improvement Award

The Academic Improvement Award is granted to up to three students per semester who have improved their performance through growing initiative and independence in the classroom. These individuals have shown an increased willingness to learn from their instructors and peers, resulting in a strong final project.

Studio Award

The Studio Award is granted to up to three students for design excellence.  These individuals have iterated upon numerous designs, expanded on their best option, visually represented the project in a technically proficient and compelling manner, and presented their vision with clarity and confidence to a design jury.

University of Michigan ArcStart Award

Multiple scholarships will be awarded to high-achieving students to attend ArcStart, a three-week-long residential program for high school students that offers students the opportunity to explore the built environment firsthand through an introduction to architectural design. Participants will experience the rewarding intensity of an engaging college architecture studio, partake in skill-building workshops that reinforce analytical and conceptual problem-solving skills, and visit architecturally significant projects in Southeast Michigan.

Cornell Future Architecture Award

University of Michigan + Cornell University Joint Initiative

Michigan Architecture Prep and Cornell University’s Department of Architecture offers the Cornell Future Architecture Award to students who have shown an interest in and talent for design and architecture. Awardees will attend the Cornell Introduction to Architecture Program – a six-week architecture enrichment program at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York – at no cost. Each year, ArcPrep graduates accepted into this program receive a full tuition, room, and board scholarship covering all expenses related to the program.

Rossetti Internship Program

University of Michigan + Rossetti Joint Initiative

Rossetti, an award-winning architecture and design firm based in Detroit, offers up to three paid internships to high-achieving graduates of the ArcPrep program. Summer interns will work on architecture, urban design, and interior design projects at Rossetti offices in downtown Detroit.

Application Information

Any student from a participating DPSCD high school is eligible. Students are selected by their principals and must meet the following requirements:

  • 2.5 GPA or better
  • Good attendance and academic standing
  • An interest in architecture