Dominiq Oti graduated from Yale University with a Master’s Degree in Architecture this May. A year ago, he heard about the Neighborhood Housing Center of New Haven (NHS) at Yale’s career fair during the COVID pandemic. “I really admire NHS and their activities in the community, including fundraising, (and) renovating houses for low-income communities. I wanted to get involved in that.”
Dominic decided to contact Stephen Cremin-Endes, Director of NHS Community Building & Organizing, for more information. “I just hoped to learn more about this organization, like what it means to fundraise for local projects in New Haven.” He also wanted to connect with Michael Haynes, Director of Real Estate Development, to better understand an architect’s role in real estate development.
Through Stephen, Dominiq got in touch with Ms. Kim Harris, Principal of the Harris & Tucker School, Founder and Visionary of Inspired Communities Inc. (ICI). Ms. Kim was looking for an architect who would be willing to help her design and develop a 700-square-foot space for her organization in the Newhallville community. Ms. Kim envisions the space as the future Newhallville Training Center that will be open to the whole community.
“For her entire life, she (Ms. Kim) has lived to help people in Newhallville. She lives to help people of all generations.” Ms. Kim impressed Dominiq, and he felt humbled to be a part of this meaningful project. “Ms. Kim came up with this vision (training center) in 2019, and I came only nine months ago to help her manifest ideas for the space.”
“Some of the design ideas came from really trying to understand the space and what Ms. Kim Harris wanted, as well as listening to the kids,” Dominiq recalled. The designing process took him three months.
“This is my very first individual project. It’s been a challenge to find ways to collaborate or redefine what it means to design.” Dominiq said. “There will be 10 children that I’m going to do site visits with, and I’m trying to get them to understand the design process. Designing isn’t just the final result…” Dominiq explained. Both he and the children have to keep the design in mind as they measure the windows and clean the space. He will teach the young visitors about the buildings and about what it means to sketch and design. Dominiq is grateful for the experience of collaborating with Ms. Kim and the kids. “This is the challenge that I was willing to take, and we’ve worked together to get through this.”
Ms. Kim and Dominiq are also working on a slogan for this center. They are now in favor of the concept Small Things Can Bring Big Possibilities. “We’re hoping that this space can really touch the lives and have an impact on all ages, especially the adolescents. It will also have an impact on people who are willing to learn.”
With this vision in mind, Dominiq designed this space to be multi-functional and inclusive. His favorite spot is a nook in the center: “The idea was to turn that into a quiet reading and study space. A little space where a child or an individual can find some privacy.”
Now that the interior design is almost finished, Ms. Kim and Dominiq have a new challenge. They are trying to get funding and visibility for this project. “The challenge I’m facing now is the transition between manifesting design with funding,” Dominiq said, “The challenge is to fully execute the entire project. There are a lot of details to think about.”
Even with challenges ahead, Dominiq is more than satisfied with their accomplishments. “I think the project is already successful, even though it’s not built. It’s really meaningful to the people that I’m serving. I’ve been working on it for eight months. This project is like a baby to me.” He has grown through the project. “I’ve managed to connect with people and teach them – learn from them about what it means to cultivate a community. It allowed me to really humble myself and understand that there are certain things that I need to really learn or listen to in order to deliver something meaningful.”
Dominiq has a career opportunity in New York, but he still wants to keep his connection with New Haven. He will still work on the Newhallville Training Center project. “I think I’ve grown to love it here (New Haven), and I’d be interested in leading and developing some other projects or doing things I’m excited about here.”