New Heights at the Marymount School: Designing for the Future

Students touring the Met with Francis Morrone

The ICAA recently concluded its week-long New Heights architecture education program at the Marymount School of New York. Eighth grade students at the all-girls school engaged in a dynamic study of classical architecture, urbanism, and the allied arts through hands-on studio experiences, immersive field studies and meaningful observation. The program draws from the ICAA’s core curriculum in Continuing Education and includes interactive elements — from gilding to plaster cast creation — and culminates in a design challenge that engages students with the architecture of their school and surrounding area.

Adrian Taylor leading a course on Classical Moldings

Monday marked the first day of New Heights and commenced with a morning introduction by Michael Romero, an instructor in the program and Executive Director of Atlas Collaborative Foundation. He set forth the goals of the week, introduced the culminating Classical design project, and assigned groups for the week. The girls broke off into three sections: one section joined Adrian Taylor, Principal at Hyde Park Mouldings, for plaster casting, while another began an architectural elements classroom session with Michael Romero. The third section got to enjoy the atypically warm and sunny October day on a walking tour with Liz McEnaney, Columbia Graduate Studies professor. For the latter activity, the girls visited and got a brief history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s construction–the group had an impressive working knowledge of some of the basic classical elements already and expressed their thoughts on how the Museum’s architecture made them feel very articulately. The girls drew elements of the iconic building that they admired, storing their sketches for design challenge plans.


Students taking advantage of the daily allotted design time

On Tuesday, the students enjoyed yet another warm day with their walking tours. The abundant sunlight was also perfect for the gilding exercise that one group completed with Alexander Kellum of EverGreene Architectural Arts. In the sunlit art room, the students mastered the art of gilding with the classical molding models set out for them to work with, and learned a little bit about the preciousness and value of the materials involved. The girls seemed to really appreciate both the  history and present value of gilding—at one point even suggesting that they gild the art room ceiling, resulting in a few anxious glances from the teachers!

Wednesday, one group joined Adrian Taylor from Hyde Park Mouldings in the art studio to cast three of the the five orders.  The girls loved the casting process, some adding color to the gypsum with some water based ink, creating a lovely marbled effect on some of the columns. In the afternoon, the girls were introduced to the plan, elevation, and section drawing formats that they would use to present their own original designs of their school’s entryway.

Gilding with EverGreene Architectural Arts

Thursday, one of the groups departed again with Liz McEnaney for a tour of 5th avenue. Their first stop was the Cooper Hewitt , appropriately mobbed with tents and people hustling about for a Design Awards Gala, as the girls were observing its elements for their own Design projects to be judged Friday. They were just across the street from the adjacent residences of the Vanderbilt sisters, Emily and Florence Adele.  The group expertly parsed each architectural detail of the buildings, demonstrating how each home reflected the personality of the sisters and showcasing their fluency in architectural language throughout the discussion. Most of the girls correctly identified Florence Adele’s home: the third floor featured the massive windows of what could have only been a ballroom–a room that they proposed could only belong to, and would have gotten much more use in, the famously more outgoing sister’s home.

On Friday, the girls finalized their design projects to be presented to the judges that afternoon. The girls had come up with some very creative elevations, plans and sections of their entryway to the new facade of Marymount 97th street–they all had time to practice their presentations, and it showed. They all spoke so eloquently to the panel which included Mark Ferguson, ICAA Board Chairman and Principal at Ferguson & Shamamian Architects, ICAA President Peter Lyden as well as a number of other established professionals.

Liz McEnaney leading a design group


Each group had such incredibly detailed drawings, and rationalized their aesthetic choices very convincingly. They demonstrated extensive knowledge of iconography and the impact of architectural environment, each ensuring that the design was inviting in its aesthetic and function with details like extra space where students could be greeted by teachers, and glass doors, which show that the modern can exist with the traditional and employ the welcoming quality of a transparent entryway. The girls settled into their seats at the end of presentations for the final awards in creativity, presentation and drawing, which were hard to give out to just one group apiece, as they all succeeded in their own way.

Finally the girls were able to say goodbye to their design coaches; the room was filled with heart felt thank yous to ICAA Instructors and students alike, both having incredible things to say about their experience with the program:

A design group reviewing their ideas

Instructor, Michael Romero: “Participating in the New Heights was such a heartening experience. The students’ enthusiasm and openness to jump right into the week was extraordinary. Teaching them about the inherent beauty of Classicism, hearing about their favorite cities, and guiding them through the design process as they worked on the Design Challenge were highlights.  Each student was unique, but they all were serious, thoughtful, and curious. While they might not all become architects one day, I sincerely hope the experience positively influences how they view the built environment. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have taught on the course.”

Adrian Taylor, Principal at Hyde Park Mouldings: “It has been a true honor to participate in this initiative….This is very important work, and I believe good things will come of it – both for the Institute and for the kids who take away inspiration from it.  Hopefully, this is still only the beginning of a tradition that will endure to inspire many”

Many of the students also stopped to say a few words about what they had learned and the program itself:

“Walking down the streets of NYC is now so interesting because of the new knowledge given.”

“I am sure this will benefit me and my classmates in the future.”

“During the week, I learned so much about Classical Architecture and what it means to be an architect.”

“This architecture program has been a very good experience for me because I got to learn so many new things, and it has inspired me to do more work with architecture. I’ve been really really lucky to have done this, and it’s been a really fun week.”

This program was such a joy for all who were involved in it. The ICAA is so grateful to have partnered with Marymount School and so many others who have made this program possible. Initiatives like these are so crucial to enriching the arts community, ensuring that young girls get the encouragement that they so deserve. To learn more about New Heights and how to support the program, email or visit our website at

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