Growing up, my life was surrounded with art. Almost every day, from the day I could pick up a crayon, I’d draw or paint something. Art materials were everywhere in our home. Crayons and fingerpaint soon led to watercolors and acrylics. Pads of paper gave way to packages of canvases. Playdough was replaced with clay and clay sculpting tools. Sketch pads, craypas, charcoals, pastels; you name it, it was there in our little butler’s pantry, waiting for me. I’m not sure what inspired me to create art; the abundance of art supplies that surrounded me or my father, an architect. I grew up watching him sketch and draw at every opportunity. He was in another world when he was drawing. I knew that he loved it. And I felt that way too. As a young child, I had no idea what becoming an architect entailed. My father eventually filled me in with details of the many years of college, the several years of apprenticeship, the tiring exams, the licensure process, the first scrappy jobs, which all led to finally becoming an architect. As a kid, I just knew, that if drawing, creating, or building could be a job, that’s what I wanted to strive for.
Soon, my mother bought me my first legos – and that sealed the deal. I would spend hours upon hours constructing, deconstructing, building, experimenting and pushing the limits of physics, incorporating water – anything. We soon had a “lego room” thanks to the generosity of my pediatrician, Dr. Schwartz, who, after seeing me bring a baggie of legos to my 6 year-old physical, dropped off bags of Legos at my house the next day. Legos were a way for me to create in three dimension what I previously imagined on paper. Architecture really came to life.
Fast forward several years. My parents up and moved us from southern Westchester to Katonah, New York. I was entering my Freshman year at John Jay High School – I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t know what to do. “Do something,” my mom said. So I walked across the street to the Katonah Library and introduced myself to the director,
Mary Kane, and asked whether she would allow me to start a Lego class for kids. She introduced me to the Children’s Librarian, Stephanie Mandella, who was certainly excited about the idea. A few weeks later, “Legos with Zach” was born. Every week, I would set up one of the library rooms with Legos which I brought with me from home, and introduced dozens of local kids to Legos. At first I created lessons with themes but I quickly realized that the children who came to this program were just like me when I was their age – they just wanted to create. So for the past several years, now with the help of my friend Bella, we hold a weekly free Lego program, “Legos with Zach and Bella” at the Katonah Library for children in grades K-5. What started out as a summer activity turned into a year-round class. It’s so great to share my love of art, architecture and legos with a new generation of creators.
Of course, at the same time, I started at John Jay High School where, luckily, they offered Architecture as an elective. It was great to meet like-minded teenagers who I am honored to call my friends. We meet, talk, and create. Occasionally, we take the train into NYC with our cameras and shoot urban scenes. And it occurred to us one day, that one thing John Jay High School didn’t have was an architecture club. So my friend Bella and I decided to present the idea to the school. And in September of 2018 the “Architecture Club” at John Jay High School was created. There are about 10-15 of us who meet once a week to discuss upcoming architecture competitions, and share ideas about creating different art pieces and photography pieces. We encourage each other and enjoy creating art and architecture together.
This past summer, I enrolled in a two week-long program through AIANY at LaGuardia Place. There, I began to understand what it took to design a building: researching the history of the area, visiting the site to feel and understand the space, and finally incorporate aspects of functionality into a work of art. After our lessons on conceptual design, our visit to Gensler’s New York office and the Spitzer School of Architecture, our main project was given to us:design a space on the Gowanus Canal. Specifically, we were presented with an oddly-shaped site off of the Carroll Street Bridge in Brooklyn. We were to design a space in which the owner lives and works. When visiting the site, I recall sitting on a bench across the river from the site, sketching possible ideas for a structure. At that I point,I had no clue what I was going to pursue; however, I had realized my sketches resembled that of an open community space – then it hit me – a riverside restaurant with little competition in the area would be perfect. Creating a living/working space was certainly an interesting study of the needs of not just the owner, but the customers and employees. With the encouragement of our instructor, Tim Hayduk, and the support of my new friends, I successfully designed the working/living space I had set my mind on. Although arduous to sketch out different versions of floor plans, I chose one and started solidifying my ideas by copying my final draft onto vellum. I then built a scaled model of the structure. Finally, I presented to a group of peers, mentors, and families and experienced my very first critique. Taking control of the room and interpreting my vision to the crowd of people standing before me was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’d ever had.
Recently, some architecture club friends and I went to a local art gallery, Gallarus Arts, in Katonah and were walking around the exhibit “Sacred Spaces”and discussing each piece of art. Unbeknownst to us, the gallery owner, Greg Muenzen, took our photo as we were discussing a piece and posted it on Instagram. To quote Greg, “One of my favorite moments of last night was this group of young high school students going from piece to piece and discussing them..”I think I realized that no matter what age you are, there’s beauty in sharing art. And I’m happy I am able to be a part of that.