World-famous architect Frank Gehry helps East Palo Alto students imagine future cities

Fourth-graders learn about architecture from man who helped design Walt Disney Concert Hall, Facebook campus

Architect Frank Gehry admires the model buildings created by Costaño Elementary School students. They made models of libraries, hospitals, courthouses, restaurants and schools while learning about design and architecture from Gehry and his architect associates, who paid a visit to the school as part of the Turnaround Arts: California program on May 21, 2019. Photo by Veronica Weber.

World-famous architect Frank Gehry brought the same concepts he has used with teams to design renowned buildings, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, to an East Palo Alto classroom on Tuesday afternoon.

Fourth-graders at Costaño Elementary School had the chance to design and model their own city filled with a stadium, courthouses, a chicken restaurant and more, through the guidance of Frank Gehry. The special afternoon visit was sponsored by Turnaround Arts: California, a nonprofit co-founded by Gehry, as well as Facebook. The program helps integrate the arts in the nation's highest-needs schools. Costaño has worked with the nonprofit since 2016.

Using cardboard boxes, wood and plastic, the children worked in teams to build their own cities with skyscrapers, courthouses and stadiums -- an activity intended to help them build confidence and critical-thinking skills.

After each team finished its project, members assembled it all together in a center table where they explained their cityscapes: schools, hospitals and other buildings inspired by Gehry and his mentorship.

"You could really build that, that could really be built," Gehry said, telling the students they could find future job opportunities with him. Their excitement filled the room, as they showed off their creations and shouted over each other to get Ghery's attention.

Costaño Elementary was an underperforming school up until three years ago, when they first enrolled with Turnaround Arts, according to Principal Viviana Espinosa. She said the school is more than just a lot of homeless children, who make up about 60% of the student population. They are a community that wants integration and to have their voices heard.

"These kids bring so much to the table," Espinosa said. "In giving them this opportunity to process the world differently, to have their voices be heard and to show them how to do it in a productive way, it's powerful."

"We started to realize that arts education was really only happening in rich schools and private school," Malissa Shriver, president and co-founder of Turnaround Arts said about when she first spoke to Gehry about starting this project.

"The poorest kids who really benefit the most are getting the least."

Both Espinosa and Shriver felt visual arts is the most engaging content and can be easily integrated with other curriculum such as math or English.

"For kids who don't have English as their first language, they live in extreme poverty, live with a lot of stress such as homelessness and incarcerated parents. They need this more than anybody," Shriver said.

Angela Karamian, the visual arts teacher at Costaño, said she supports the goals of the program: integrating arts education in the classroom, climate and culture in the school campus and engaging families and the community.

"The kids that come here, there's a lot of tragic circumstances that they have to go through and they have to come to school, they bring all of that stuff with them," Karamian said.

"We always think of this (as) a place where they can come and it’s healing, it's affirming who they are and we try to make them proud of who they are."

Bill Correll, a makerspace teacher, said integrating art with other curriculum such as STEM helps people realize the practicality of the theories and helps stimulate the kids critical-thinking skills.

"I think that it makes science, engineering and math more practical as opposed to something that is theoretical and book-centric," Correll said.

Gehry said he was always interested in schools with children lacking an interest in education.

"Those are the schools in need," Gehry said. "They drop out because they're bored with the teaching."

Gehry said if you get kids to build makeshift cities such as they did in the class, you can teach them how to calculate areas of buildings, or teaching them about politics and how city management works.

"They're pretty engaged right now because they’re making stuff," Gehry said. "They understand there’s more to life."

He pointed out the pride in the face of one of the children working on her building, reflecting his own pride in seeing how dedicated the class was to their creations.

"It's going to inspire me," Gehry said.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


10 people like this
Posted by revdreileen
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 22, 2019 at 11:41 am

revdreileen is a registered user.

What a wonderful gift to our children!

3 people like this
Posted by SO cool!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2019 at 7:43 pm

What a treat

Walt Disney Concert Hall is incredible

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on May 23, 2019 at 6:12 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Great story.
I was an intern at Chiat Day in 1986, working for my former Gunn journalism advisor Tom Harbeck, and the LA offfice of our firm had a fish- shaped conference room, and a card board love seat, both by Frank Gehry.
I left advertising— to move back here, to work on Earth Day — but finally saw the “new” Chiat Day Venice office in 2017, the one with the giant Oldenburg binoculars, that is now used by Google.

I recommend the documentary about Gehry and Dr. Wexler, his shrink.
Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Former Palo Altan
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2019 at 9:40 pm

What a great story!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more of the famous and ultra-talented would spend time with these children?
Hopefully the modest circumstances of Frank Gerhy’s early life will provide encouragement and inspiration to these kids.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Nationally renowned Indian restaurant expanding to Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 3 comments | 2,985 views

Cap On? Cap Off? Recycling Bottles is Confusing
By Laura Stec | 34 comments | 1,349 views

Summer travel: Is anything changing?
By Sherry Listgarten | 14 comments | 1,341 views

Premarital and Couples: "Our Deepest Fear" by Marianne Williamson
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,237 views