49_Tom Vecchione

Build a Brighter Future

Tom Vecchione, a senior executive at one of the world’s most influential design firms, designed the Gensler Education Initiative–a partnership with academic, philanthropic, and cultural organizations such as the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. The goal: Use the power of design to expand the horizons of high-school students in New York City. Students develop ideas that they represent through collages, models, and storyboards. Design becomes a catalyst for learning and change.


Tom Vecchione
Vice president and design director
Gensler Architecture, Design & Planning
New York, New York


What specific issue are you trying to address?
New York City is recognized as a major design capital, yet talented New York public high school students have little access to the wealth of educational and career opportunities available in design. Tom Vecchione, a vice president and architect with Gensler…Architecture, Design & Planning, recognized this lack, especially within the world of architecture and planning. Tom forged a collaboration with the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, spearheading their Design Directions architectural program, which offers NYC high school students an alternative resource for learning. Working with Tom and his dedicated group of Gensler teammates, students discover how design impacts their daily lives, analyze complex issues involved in designing environments, and learn to work collaboratively to offer creative solutions. The outreach has expanded to include developing corporate partnerships, raising the design awareness of teachers, and helping the NYC Board of Education develop design-based curriculum.

What business principle applied?
Using a truly skunkworks approach, Tom Vecchione and his Gensler team developed a more far-reaching educational initiative by applying dedication, energy and many hours, always seizing opportunities to grow and reach out. As the educational initiative began to expand, the team partnered with corporate funders, established an internal educational initiative as well as other outreach programs, and continue to hold workshops on topics germane to high school students as well as to their teachers and administrators. A video, created with Cooper-Hewitt, was aired on PBS.

How did you put it into practice?
Tom and his team began by working with the Cooper-Hewitt Design Directions program in a series of annual hands-on design workshops. Each year, the architects facilitate a discussion of function, structural principles, and aesthetics, while students consider how every aspect of a building supports its purpose and meets the various needs of people using the space. Students develop concepts for spaces that address a specific issue, which they then graphically represent through collages, models, or storyboards. To date, three student workshops have taken place: 1. Inside Outside (understanding how outside spaces–pocket parks–affect the community, and ways that streetlife can extend into a building and vice versa. 2. Campus Connections and Community (how organizations translate their corporate identity and mission into building architecture and workplace design). 3. Youth-Powered Spaces (how work and community spaces affect everyday life).

How have you seen results?
What began as a workshop for a group of high school students has been transformed into the Gensler Education Initiative, which includes the Design Directions Workshops for high school students, Teacher Externships, Envisioning Sessions, Youth Advocacy Programs, the Donald G. Brinkmann Scholarship Award Program, Internships and Shadowing Programs. Activities also include participating in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, working with NYC Public School System in developing design-based curriculum, crafting and developing strategies to facilitate corporate partnership programs (not just design-based), and involvement with the National Arts Education Association workshop, to name a few. Through these programs, young people are encouraged to see themselves as designers in their own right as they engage in active observation, critical discussion, strategies for visual communication and presentation, and critique. Educators learn the importance of design as a universal language in developing creative solutions, team building, and leadership They are encouraged to use design as a catalyst for learning and through design help their students develop skills that will prepare them for the workforce of the 21st century.