“Here we are, class! Everyone off the bus; don’t push! Stand together near the steps.”
“I’ve been here before. Big trip, big deal.”
“I hope that you have been
before, Chuck. This is the heart of our city—the downtown area.”
“But all that’s here are buildings. My mother took me shopping over there.”
“Yes, I’m sure that all of you have been inside many of these buildings. Today we are to view the outside of the structures that surround the Green. There is a variety . . . ”
“Can I get a soda?”
“Soda! At nine-thirty in the morning, no Chuck! Now, each building serves a function, but more than that, each reflects a style that . . . ”
“Can we go over to the stores? How come the church is in the middle? How tall is that pointed thing?”
“ . . . reflects a style that often exhibits people’s hopes in reaching beyond their earthbound physical limits. Look at. . . .”
New Haven, and other cities as well, are viewed according to an individual’s perceptions. How a people relate to an urban activity or how it affects their lives are often the limits of contact with the broader concept add experience of-urban living. Our students tend to view only segments of the city at a time, unfamiliar with its complex functions beyond their front yards and neighborhoods. Certainly they are limited by their years and isolated experiences. Thus an exposure, both conceptually and physically, to the city’s center can promote an understanding and give an overview to the larger place—New Haven. As city dwellers and citizens who will continue to live within its borders, the students need a feeling of belonging and a sense of pride in their city.
The unit’s objectives are:
1. To illustrate how architecture reflects our human values with focus on the Center Church at the Green.
2. To provide a basis of information for a slide presentation of the city’s center and to acquaint the students with its notable structures, their variety and purpose.
3. To increase students’ appreciation of architecture within New Haven.
4. To provide activities for students so that they become acquainted with some of the elements of architecture.
This unit is intended for use with eighth grade social studies students. It can be used to help illustrate the development of New England towns while focusing on New Haven as a model when studying the Northeast. Establishing New Haven’s purpose for settlement and examining the growth of the community, will help the students to realize how people have strived to improve their environment. While primarily designed for an eighth grade class, the unit may serve useful to high schoolers studying urban development and to art students studying the built environment. Also, the unit may be helpful for sixth graders, in their study of Connecticut. The unit’s content and activities could be used with any achievement level of student with appropriate teacher adjustment. A week of teaching time may be needed at a minimum expanded discussion of the topic will depend upon the extent of teacher coverage and student interest.
The center of New Haven continues to draw people into itself. It is an employer, an entertainer, a market place for shoppers. Cultural experiences, sports, recreational activities are available aside financial and investment facilities. Activity abounds on the streets, city government and politics are at work and justice is administered in nearby courtrooms. The center’s churches provide for peoples’ religious needs. The Green with its variety of surrounding buildings, designed to serve as well as to enhance the environment, make a pleasing facade for ten human activity behind. From its colonial beginnings, New Haven has drawn people to engage in various endeavors; over the centuries, it has developed, expanded, modernized and restored itself while reflecting the needs of its inhabitants and their style of living. From this center, people moved outward in order to extend their opportunities; today many are returning to live along its maze of streets that extend from the original pathways that formed the first planned community in America.
Using New Haven’s center as a focus, the students may better relate to our city’s various functions and may better visualize their relationship to it. Students travel to the “downtown” area but do not view any structures as representing the culmination of human endeavor and progress. Seldom, if ever, have they ventured within most of the buildings in the core of the city. This is understandable for they have neither need nor reason to enter. But from these buildings one can get a sense of our past, realize how the city has grown and changed, and in turn, shaped the lives of the inhabitants. The city will no longer just exist as sections or disjointed elements but will become a complete organization of connected human activity. Throughout our region, the town green and churches are easily seen, and still serve as centers of community activity. Once a beginning is established in the student’s mind, an understanding of the complex urban picture may follow.
A major concept of this unit is to develop pride in New Haven through its architecture. People need a sense of pride in who they are and what they do. This can be achieved through what they build. At New Haven’s center, we can view the structures that represent human activity and progress. Our Green area is basically a civic facade containing buildings that illustrate the community’-efforts to put its best on center stage. The architecture is an illusion created not just from practical need but out of a desire to attest to human achievement; the architecture attempts to explain who we are and what we wish to do. It is the architecture of a building that distinguishes it from a mere structure. By a study of the structures that surround the Green, coupled with awareness of our city’s past, growth and changes, the student can also share in our civic pride.
People like to have things simple and clear; they like to know the limits of a place and define themselves according to that reference. Although, today, the city of New Haven flows into its surrounding neighbors, the Green has the same shape that the early settlement had when it was first surveyed. Even the bounding streets-Church, Elm, Chapel and College—lend a solid feeling and define the space. The area outside the Green echoes with the variety and complexity of human life. It portrays an image of life in today’s city which is as well defined as the original. Thus the Green is a true and natural beginning from which to develop the student’s perspective. Since New Haven was settled around the existing Green and it remains for all practical purposes the center of the city, this unit focuses on the buildings that border the upper and lower Green.
By studying the Green, the city’s purpose in the classic sense can be established. To the ancient Greeks, the city was a clearly defined physical entity. Their city expressed their aspirations concerning religion, government and the market place; therefore the temple, court and business areas were set at the center. At New Haven’s center, these elements are still present as well as people’s continued attempts to dramatize their dream in monuments of human accomplishment, During its Greek Revival period, New Haven divided its Green with a street appropriately called Temple Street. By studying the Green’s structures, why and what they reflect can impart to the students the fact that these human creations testify to our style of living.
The buildings which define the edges of the Green serve as a boundary enclosing the civic center. The architecture of the buildings identifies human achievement and can be viewed as solid testimony to our accomplishment, dreams and memories. As the buildings enclose the space of the Green, they also visually exclude the “backside” of city existence. Outside the edge is the surrounding busy, reality of complex human activity with daily life, work and concerns often limiting our creative, thoughtful selves and our flights of fantasy. But the architecture surrounding the Green maintains a facade, not unlike the false fronts on movie staging lots, that illustrate our best attempts to make real our dreams in stone, brick, glass and masonry. Retail stores are masked by stately fronts, dwellings places are hidden behind walls of glass or elegantly arched windows, a columned portico gives no hint of the handling and sorting of mail; the fronts maintain a face that denies the world behind. Thus the Green’s architecture does not just fulfill a need for building but expresses a pride in creating a civic place and reveals our human desire to reach our dreams.