In the previous two seminars which I have taken, I have entered each with at least a tenuous grasp of the necessary language to begin to discuss the seminar’s focus. With this seminar, “The Symbolic Language of Architecture and Public Monuments,” I broke “tradition.” I purposely selected an area I was not familiar with; partly because I had heard excellent reports from colleagues about previous seminars with Professor Bloomer; and partly due to a personal interest in finding out more about the process and meaning of architecture. This time it was not so easy to get a handle on a theme for my unit. I was attempting to climb a well oiled, branchless, amorphous tree without cleats! I am including the “history” of the process of coming up with a theme for this unit because I believe that my unimplemented ideas have merit, and may be implemented by myself or others in the future.
In the past, even when the tree was oiled, I used my knowledge and interest in drama as cleats to dig in and provide a context for my new information and understandings. My past two units utilized drama as the medium through which the content was taught. This time, since I was on a foray into a new world, I thought I would communicate through a medium I had not previously used in a Yale Institute unit. I chose computers as this medium, because of my interest in, and knowledge of, computers. I entitled my proposed unit, “ABCs: Architectural Basics for Children on Computer.” Computers allow a student to proceed in the direction and at the pace she desires. They also provide motivation to explore a particular subject. I proposed to create an application which would allow students to identify parts of buildings by choosing correct responses from lists of vocabulary. Students could also move parts of buildings around on the screen using a mouse, and “build” known and new buildings. I investigated two major software packages, IBM’s “Learning Links,” and Asymmetrix’ “Multimedia ToolBook.” (I selected software for the IBM since every elementary and middle school classroom now has four IBM computers. I would have preferred to use a Macintosh application, “Hypercard,” which I am familiar with, but this would not have been practical given the computers available in the schools.) I spent many hours with computer specialists and consultants at Yale, IBM, and Jostens’ Computers. They helped me to figure out the benefits of each software application, and to analyze the needs of my project in relation to the abilities of the software and the school system’s computer hardware. In both cases the software would not operate on the computers in the schools. In both cases I had created an overly ambitious, if not impossible, project! My journey into the world of architecture started with a one month expedition down a dead end path!
In a desperate moment, I switched my “cleats” (my anchor) from the computer to the video recorder. Being aware of the power of the moving image to communicate, and having some background in video, I knew that I could create a good quality video. Drama began to creep back into the picture as I renamed the proposed unit, “The Language of Architecture” or “Let’s Talk Architecture.” Now, I would create a thirty minute video focusing on a variety of buildings in New Haven, from some well known buildings to lesser known buildings in the Dixwell neighborhood. Each building would take on a character, and the narration would personify the style(s) and nature of a given building. I also determined to create a set of slides of many of New Haven’s buildings which would exemplify a variety of architectural styles and illustrate a number of architectural concepts. Students were going to design their own buildings and have a field trip—all in five, fifty minute sessions! The emphasis was still on vocabulary and the science of architecture. I was uncomfortable, and knew I was not yet on solid ground to begin my work on the unit.
Intuition, and common sense, told me to simplify. I could not decide if focusing on one architectural style would be advantageous. I attempted to look at other subjects to see how they are introduced to beginning students. Is there always a scribble stage? When introducing students to the concept of the arts we attempt to provide multi-arts experiences. Students can experience a variety of arts activities to develop an understanding of the differences and similarities between the various art forms. If introducing students to the concept of trees, one might introduce the maple as a symbol of all trees, but if introducing the concept of life, one would probably need to introduce a variety of life-forms rather than the human, for example. I personally need to create boundaries for a large picture before I focus on the particular. Reading Kent Bloomer’s and Charles Moore’s book, “Body, Memory, and Architecture,” helped me formulate the concept that I have chosen to use as my unit structure. I was intrigued by the in-depth study of the connection between memory, body experience, and architecture. Chapter 7, “Body Movement,” especially provided insight on how drama and movement would be practical teaching tools for getting students to experience architecture. The quote selected for the opening of this paper explains my rationale for allowing students to observe, experience, and respond to many pieces of architecture. I want to motivate students to: get pleasure from observing architecture; identify particular pieces of architecture in their community; and be connected to New Haven through particular pieces of architecture. I want to create an introductory unit on architecture with the emphasis on the art of, rather than the science of architecture; the feeling, rather than the thinking that architecture evokes; the senses, rather than the intuition, which architecture involves.
The result of returning to drama as the medium through which to learn about and teach architecture created a new and present title of my unit, “Play on Architecture.” Students will create a play about architecture, utilizing the structure designed in this unit. From experience, I know that students learn well when challenged with production, especially when charged with the responsibility to teach and entertain! Of course the title also serves to comment on the fact that the introduction to this new subject will be fun!