Oculus - Fall 2012 - (Page 43)
LETTER FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
The Young and the Edgeless
Bell at P.S. 234, designed by Dattner Architects.
I hear within what I see outside, I see within what I hear outside…. Music invents silence, architecture invents space.
—from “On Reading John Cage,” Octavio Paz, 1962
The harder Tom tried to fasten his mind on his book, the more his ideas wandered. So at last, with a sigh and a yawn, he gave it up. It seemed to him that the noon recess would never come.
—from Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain, 1876
…the kindergarten has brought bloom to the mind of many a child: and all this is the result of a growing philosophy of education. But there is, alas! no architectural kindergarten – a garden of the heart wherein the simple, obvious truths, the truths that any child might consent to, are brought fresh to the faculties and are held to be good because they are true and real.
—from Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings, Louis H. Sullivan, 1901
ulton Avenue School #8 in Oceanside, NY, was built quickly, a few years after the end of World War II, to deal with the baby boom thrust upon the suburbs. Its 1962 graduates recently held a reunion at which we shared old photos. Pictures were taken in the same spot every year, under the curved and cantilevered entrance canopy. This significant architectural detail was a gesture of invitation and protection, as was the gate in the eight-foot-tall, chain-link perimeter fence. We climbed that fence on weekends and some nights. PlaNYC now keeps schoolyards open after hours. At the grade-school alumni gathering, I started thinking about the collective clamor to go on to college, graduate school, and the conundrum of continuing education. How was the conjunction of play and learning conditioned early on? Did the architecture of our schools – and the designed permeability of our fences – play any part in it? One of the best schools in New York City is P.S. 234, by Dattner Architects. Located not far from the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan, it has a nautical theme that engenders details such as porthole windows at kid’s eye level. A boat-bedecked iron fence defines the perimeter of the play space on the corner of Chambers and Greenwich Streets. One way that a school can seem “edgeless” is by putting the schoolyard in plain sight. In the 1980s, play space in growing neighborhoods was being sacrificed for plopped-in modular classrooms. Now we take more pains to provide adequate recreation space for physical activity, to help prevent chronic diseases such as obesity. At the Center for Architecture this fall we are hosting the exhibition “The Best School in the World: Seven Finnish Examples from the 21st Century.” In its catalogue, Kaisa Nuikkinen, Ph.D., head architect for School Design in the Helsinki City Education Department, writes: “Learning is inseparable from the physical environment in which it takes place, and architecture is an integral part of the functional design of the school environment.” Examples
from Espoo and Joensuu can be compared with new school design here in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Cities learn from each other and translate the lesson plan, as we see in the Finnish hybrid design for Cranbrook by Eliel Saarinen. One of the dangers in educational facility design is the cynicism of hopelessness – the feeling that schools can devolve to daycare and incarceration. This has had architectural implications. Following French social philosopher Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze wrote in 1992 in Postscript on the Societies of Control that “perpetual training tends to replace the school, and continuous control to replace the examination.” More recently, members of the Critical Pedagogy Forum wrote that “Foucault conducted intense studies of the structures of schools,” adding, “We can see in all of these that the school environment is one of total control and surveillance.” I’m less sure of this, having been kicked out of kindergarten after four days. Everything I needed to know, before first grade, was left behind. So when I look at the curved boomerang swoops of the 2010 Kirkkojärvi School by Helsinki-based Verstas Architects, which accommodates 77 students aged 7 to 16 speaking 32 different languages, I see more than the sanctioned linguistic diversity. The edgeless and open courtyards fall adjacent to the arcs of the building, running parallel to the topography of the hillside site. And when I stop in at Pelli Clarke Pelli’s Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, completed in 2009 in New Haven, CT, I see a welcoming gallery lobby and vitrines displaying the artwork of the creative minds and hands of the next generation. Perhaps I don’t know much about geography or trigonometry or even what a slide rule is for anymore. But I do know that good school design can feed a hunger for knowledge. Edgy and edgeless schools are here and now.
Rick Bell, FAIA Executive Director, AIA New York Chapter
Fall 2012 Oculus
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Fall 2012
Letter from the President: The Future: Here and Now
Of Ladybugs and Learning
Manhattanville Shuffl e: A no-real-community-here might just become one
Opener: The New Learning Landscape
Oh, the Places We’ll Go!
One Firm, Two Schools of Thought
Schools Made to Order
Expanding Architecture Beyond Form and Function
New Kids on the Boards
Real Solutions at Harlem’s Edge
The Future of Architecture Since 1889
Aalto and America
The Mythic Modern: Architectural Expeditions into the Spirit of Place
Schlepping Through Ambivalence: Essays on an American Architectural Condition
The Harlem Edge | Cultivating Connections 2012 Biennial Ideas Competition
A pioneering example of Modernism in New York is the 1931 New School for Social Research building by Joseph Urban
The Young and the Edgeless
Alphabetical and Categorical Index
Oculus - Fall 2012
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