Students at several Central City schools soon will have a permanent place to learn about architecture, design and city planning after officials from PlayBuild, a nonprofit focused on architecture education, broke ground Tuesday on a “design playground” in New Orleans.
The 2-year-old organization, along with Palmisano Contractors, is converting a vacant lot at Thalia and Willow streets into a space for children to play and learn.
PlayBuild has been hosting outdoor building sessions for students from KIPP Central City, Sylvanie Williams College Prep, Andrew H. Wilson Charter and other nearby schools at the Thalia Street site for 18 months.
The site — made up of “some lumber, a storage container and a lot of optimism,” as PlayBuild co-founder Charlotte Jones described it — has been a work in progress during that time.
The rudimentary existing site features a few benches, an uneven lawn and a green shipping container filled with a variety of building tools.
Large foam blocks shaped like cylinders and arches, magnetic tiles and even Lego toys are central to the work PlayBuild does. Volunteers use tactile, engaging activities to teach children ages 4 to 12 principles of design and architecture.
More than 50 children have participated in sessions at the site.
PlayBuild also takes its playground to festivals on weekends.
With Tuesday’s groundbreaking, the organization moves closer to achieving its vision of a multifunctional space designed for learning through play, PlayBuild co-founder Angela Kyle said.
A rendering of the completed site shows an open lawn, renamed the “Imagination Lawn,” on the side of the lot facing Thalia. That’s where much of the large-scale building will happen. The rest of the site will include an outdoor classroom with seating for about 25 people, a stage and a seated workstation.
“We’re going to take it to the next level and really turn it into a destination for the neighborhood and for the city,” Kyle said.
Construction is expected to be completed in June, in time for a summer camp program, she said.
Kyle and Jones founded PlayBuild two years ago. Kyle said the organization was inspired by both the culture and the history of New Orleans’ built environment and also the drastic changes underway in that environment, particularly in places like Central City.
Kyle said she wanted to inspire children, through play, to think and learn about architecture, design and city planning.
The organization has mostly been funded by family and friends of the founders and donors. The largest cash infusion was $20,000 received through Give NOLA Day last year. Kyle said the organization is hoping to raise $50,000 to $100,000 during this year’s Give NOLA event.