Designing With Little Architects

By Samantha King, Refortify committee member

OKW recently participated in our third year with Refortify, an industry design competition hosted by RE Group. RE Group is made up of a collection of local designers who share one primary goal: challenging common conventions of our industry. By partnering with Breakthrough Urban Ministries, a community network that works to bring growth back to Chicago’s East Garfield Park, designers are brought into the classroom to educate students on the fundamentals of design. Through a series of workshops, students learn how to design a thoughtful and creative fort. Teams from various architecture and design firms mentor the kids and execute their vision. The teams build their "forts" using donated clothing, bedding and building materials. The collected clothing and materials are then donated to benefit their local community center and other neighborhood organizations. Months of preparation come down to three days: building, play, and awards. 

I first heard about Refortify from one of my local manufacturer’s reps, Brian Buckley. Brian had stopped into the office for an update and brought in some information about the event. Refortify Chicago was in it's second year, when I quickly became educated on the impact it was having on our local design community. Many of the kids involved in the program don’t know what an architect or interior designer does. One of the most rewarding aspects of this competition is being able to expand a child’s perception of what is possible for them, beyond perceived limitations.

Our 2015 fort theme came from two girls who wanted a spooky, yet relaxing fort style that only allowed their "closest friends and cute boys in to chill." Physical construction of the forts is fairly limitless assuming it is safe for kids to play in (no sharp edges!) Our team designed an ambitious curved fort made of cardboard tubes that were kept together by tension.

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In 2016 we collaborated with two boys who were obsessed with Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. This fort had different challenges entirely because it was a slap shot style carnival game made entirely of cardboard tubes. 

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In an attempt to try something new, our 2017 fort was made of lumber. Our two tiny team captains wanted a "hip hop dance party with two floors and room to get ready." While we didn't have enough room to build two stories, we built an awesome platform dance floor complete with a lighted back wall so the girls could party all night long.

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While OKW has yet to win an award for our fort, we always have fun collaborating with the children. They are constantly asking questions about how and why the fort is being built and what designers do every day. Refortify connects young kids with the design profession while benefiting our neighbors in need. It reminds us all to be inquisitive and see design through the children's eyes; for the first time.