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The sky’s the limit (or is it?) for this accomplished model builder

Meet the Future: Jayden Nguyen

Creative, innovative, imaginative … Many of today’s students are all that and more in a vast variety of interest areas. This series features students with exceptional and unusual gifts.

Name: Jayden Nguyen
School: Byron Center High School
Jam: 3D Model-building

Byron Center – A model of the Titanic, complete with bow, stern, masts, windows and many other intricate details, is on display outside the Byron Center High School art room. 

The stunning ship nearly 10 feet long and a foot wide is one of several large 3D sculptures designed and built by senior Jayden Nguyen, who spends countless hours working on his creative architecture in and outside of art class. His award-winning model of the  One World Trade Center and another of a skyscraper of his own design stand in the back of the art classroom. Inside an adjoining room, his model of the original Twin Towers stretches high. He likes to add light to his work his Trade Center lights up like a rainbow and he adds little trees and landscape elements to the spaces.

Jayden has the most extensive 3D sculpture portfolio that art teachers Greg Reinstein and Julie VanderLaan have seen in their decades teaching, and they say Jayden is constantly tinkering to improve and add more to his pieces. “He has found a home where he can take his core knowledge and apply it hands-on … What other kid is going to spend a year building from scratch? He used no build kits. Everything on that Titanic was touched by his hands.”

His craftsmanship continues to improve, Reinstein said.

Jayden agreed. “I’m never really finished with my models.”

Jayden Nguyen’s Quartz Tower original design won a Gold Key in the Scholastic Art and Writing competition

How old were you when you began 3D model building and what’s the story there?

“When I first watched the Titanic movie I fell in love with the ship,” said Jayden, who built the model using foam boards, wood, paint and other materials. “I never really cared about the characters. I cared about the ship itself.”

Jayden was 5 or 6 years old then, living in New York City with his parents, Mimi Chiu and Jonathan Nguyen, when he first learned of the unsinkable ship that sank in 1912 by watching the 1997 blockbuster film. He wanted to learn about the vessel’s every detail.

Around the same time, he also began studying another form of architecture skyscrapers. Fortunately, some of the biggest and best-known were just blocks away.

“I looked into buildings and became fascinated by architecture stuff,” he said.

He drew ships and towers, made giant 3D paper robots and turned Legos into impressive structures. He remembers being mesmerized by the construction of the One World Trade Center, often referred to as the Freedom Tower, which he saw from the streets of Manhattan. “It made the city feel reborn. I feel like the Freedom Tower helped symbolize New York City.”

Jayden and his family moved to Michigan when he was 14 and he began attending Byron Center High School in ninth grade. His first art class there was Foundations of Art, and teacher Greg Reinstein quickly noticed Jayden’s knack for model-building and architecture. In his freshman year, he fashioned a mini-version of the Titanic out of playing cards a precursor of larger things to come.

(Courtesy photo) Jayden Nguyen continuously works on his models, including his Twin Towers sculpture

A few related accomplishments:

Jayden won a Gold Key Award in the Scholastic Art and Writing for his design called Quartz Tower and honorable mentions for The Titanic, Twin Towers and his art portfolio as a package. Jayden’s One World Trade Center sculpture earned a Gold Key Award in 2020. 

His Quartz Tower incorporates elements of other skyscrapers, but he’s added his own flair to it such as “advertising” on the sides in the form of an iPad with a model on the screen. It also has green spaces on each level to be environmentally friendly. 

Is there a teacher or teachers who have had a big impact?

“Stein really encouraged me to make models,” he said, referring to Reinstein by his nickname. “I decided I wanted to model a skyscraper and Stein encouraged me throughout my entire process of making it.

“Mrs. VanderLaan was also very supportive of the things I made. I really enjoyed working with both of them.” The feeling is mutual.

“I’ve never had a model builder in my 28 years (teaching) like Jayden,” Reinstein said, while sitting with Jayden in a corner of his classroom that has become the young artists’ studio space. “This is what teachers scream for to have kids like Jadyen. He makes it easy to come in every day, to be a better teacher and instructor.”

(Courtesy photo) The Titanic model measures almost 10 feet long and a foot wide

Envision yourself 10/20 years from now…

Jayden is considering going to Ferris State University to major in architecture and bring his talent to the next level with a career as an architect. He appreciates preservation and likes the idea of adding new elements to historic buildings and landmarks.  In New York City many of the new buildings are being built on top of existing ones because of lack of space on the ground, he said.

“I find myself designing a lot of buildings. What are they like, major features, what’s new in terms of design? I hope when I get to that point in life that my skills in model making improve. … I am trying to work with more complex models.”

The biggest lesson you have learned from your involvement in design is…

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to take chances and go out of my comfort zone to accomplish things that I probably wouldn’t (otherwise) be confident about.”

Jayden’s Model Making Timeline

(Courtesy photo) The Titanic model includes many details and elements
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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