Joan A. Malerba-Foran
The focus of my unit will be The Architectural and Social Space of the American Front Porch, from its initial design and function to its current use, and
what this architectural place means to my students’ live
s. The front porch is iconic America and is shared by any age, gender, and class. Most importantly for my students will be the fact that the porch is a “place” and “space” where kinship and oral performance allow the transmission of cultural values; also, it is a place where outside forces, such as technology or social sanctions, act upon those values. I will define architectural structures such as veranda, lanai, back porch, stoop, as well as the anthropological and sociological terms such as gesture, space, and place. I will touch on the architectural history, courtship patterns, technology, and the prejudices that class structure plays on personal expression in a semi-private space.
The purpose of this unit is to first, recognize the significance of the front porch as both an architectural (material) place and a social (immaterial) space, and its essential function in allowing people to interact in a neutral (liminal) area. Second, it is to create a positive, conscious connection between oral cultural roots and the front porch. We will do this by recognizing the importance of storytelling in transmitting values by tapping into the students’ already existing experiences with front porch culture. We will look specifically at how family is defined within the semi-private (liminal) front-porch-space by using Frost’s poem “The Death of the Hired Man,” and how identity and community are expressed through the use of the front porch in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1). Students will write interviews with people in their family, school, or community with this common architectural feature (in time, we will look at how prejudice and power is played out around this structure). I will present models of front porch experiences in literature, poetry, and film. My goal is to have students produce a written and/or auditory work that they perform on a mock front porch set up at the back of our classroom. Their performance must demonstrate an understanding of the concepts of the unit, i.e. gesture, orality, performance, culture, liminal, space/place, and kinship.