Goldhagen is an architecture critic and the author of the new book “Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives.” In it, she argues that buildings affect us in ways that go deeper than even most architects realize. They also provide windows into the minds that conceived them. “What can you learn about Trump from Trump’s aesthetics?” she asked. “Quite a lot.”
I’m playing around with the formatting of these weekly roundups. Let me know what works or doesn’t work for you. UPDATE: looks like links in pictures weren’t working, so I added embedded links to each article.
A nice overview of the relationship between architectural design and well-being from The Guardian’s Cities.
“One, two, three, four!” they counted in Finnish. (For good measure, I jumped into the ditch, too.) The teacher, Pelo, explained that this experience represented how she and the two aides aspire to teach the kindergartners in the woods. She described this approach as “secret” learning, when children are unaware that they’re learning academic content. In the forest, these Finnish educators might lead the children to find sticks of varying lengths and organize them from shortest to longest, form letters out of natural materials, or count mushrooms.
It’s likely that as long as humans and their institutions hold prejudices and bias, their designs will reflect them. But some progress is possible. Two decades ago architect Ronald Mace imagined a new standard, in which anything humans make — a new piece of technology, a public park, a household product — is usable by everyone. He called this idea “universal design.” Today it’s an enforceable legal standard in Norway. One way to help us get there? Make sure the design process itself is also accessible to all.
“All of the choice-based reform efforts that they’ve come up with over the last 20 years have been designed to bring back all the white people who left after Brown v. Board. But the irony is that, if [districts] keep relying on choice, they’re going to be set up for failure because white people will not enroll their children in schools unless they’re already [predominantly] white,” said Natalie Hopkinson, a black parent and journalist, referring to extensive research showing privileged, white parents tend to send their kids to schools that they perceive as “high status.” “So the segregation keeps repeating itself as long as you rely on choice as a way to make the change.”
In the Philadelphia school district, 37 percent of the system’s 144,000 are chronically absent. Among high-school students, the figure shoots up to 51 percent. The districts in Baltimore and Milwaukee have similar numbers. For Cleveland and Detroit, the chronic absenteeism rates are around 50 percent, and more than 60 percent of Cleveland’s high-schoolers missed more than three weeks of school a year.
The report’s authors write that one common denominator linking these cities is the “nearly 100 years of historical actions that aimed to segregate African American populations in sections of the city with the poorest housing, greatest proximity to industrial pollutants, greatest exposure to violence, and highest unemployment rates, resulting in widespread inter-generational poverty.”
“Students need to be in classrooms that inspire them—spaces that are light, airy, and filled with examples of work that they aspire to do. Each school will have a variety of spacious classroom settings. Some will be more traditional in the way that we envision classrooms now, but others might be set up outside or within an atrium or amphitheater. There might be desks, cushions, or benches arranged in rows or circles—however the teachers want them, as not every classroom will follow a template. Each classroom will be set up based on what is necessary to meet learning objectives. But schools will prioritize configuring classes to inspire learning first and foremost, and, where appropriate, reflect the diversity of environments that students are exposed to outside a school setting. Students will have beautiful spaces that make them feel good to be at school—with art, living plants, music where appropriate, comfortable seating, and fast internet access.” [Bold added]
—Rita Pin Ahrens,the director of education policy for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, in an article on The Atlantic, “Reimagining the Modern Classroom“
A “high level of student engagement may be at least partially due to the school’s new Lithgow Building, which opened last August. The historic building was renovated with a trauma-informed design that houses the school’s lower and middle grades. “In many elementary schools, people use bright primary colors,” says Codman’s executive director Meg Campbell. “But for kids who’ve been traumatized or on the autism spectrum, red can be a trigger.”
. . . Campbell says she has seen a dramatic improvement in students’ behavior following the Lithgow renovation, even with the addition of 44 more students this school year.“Last year we had 16 students with 50 different incidents that warranted a suspension,” Campbell says. “This year to date, we’ve had three students with six incidents warranting suspension to date. If you put kids in a different environment, the behavior changes, and the teachers are happier.” [Bold added]
One of this blog’s key arguments is that the influence of environment and infrastructure has a large, and all too often ignored, impact on student learning.
In the conversations we have on public education, we often talk as if teachers and students operate in some kind of a vacuum. Many fail to acknowledge what it feels like for a child to walk into a building each day in which high pitched sounds reverberate sharply off walls and floors, mold grows in the ceiling, harsh florescent lighting beams off bright surfaces, and the infrastructure is decaying.
The analysis found that the federal government provides almost no capital construction funding for school facilities, and state support for school facilities varies widely. Local school districts bear the heaviest burden in making the investments needed to build and improve school facilities. When school districts cannot afford to make these significant investments, they are often forced to make more frequent building repairs from their operating funds—the same budget that pays for teacher salaries, instructional materials and general programming.
Please help to build awareness of the need for investing in our school infrastructure and promote the report using#StateofOurSchools.
“We have learned to tolerate decay, and ugliness. . . . Demolition by neglect is now our maintenance policy, and not just when it comes to things we have made in bricks and mortar; it erodes our civic landscape, too.”
“You may think that you control most of your choices, but the truth is that a large portion of your actions every day are simply a response to the environment around you. The forms you are mailed, the food on your kitchen counter, the items on your desk at work — they all impact your behavior in one way or another.
Bringing it back to the researcher’s quote, we could say that your environment is the “default option to which you are assigned.” The environment you surround yourself with determines the default actions that you take on a day–to–day basis.”
NPR has an interesting piece up about one-room schoolhouses in the segregated South, called Rosenwald Schools after the man who funded them. An economist, Dan Aaronson, conducted a study on their impact:
“He and other economists used this data to compare communities that had a Rosenwald school with communities that didn’t. It turns out these schools had a big impact on kids in the area.
“First and foremost, they got more education,” says Aaronson. But that’s only the beginning. Students who went to Rosenwald schools had higher IQ scores than kids who didn’t. They made more money later in life. They were more likely to travel to the North as part of the Great Migration. They lived a little bit longer. The women delayed marriage and had fewer kids. And crime rates in the area of the schools went down.”
There are no doubt multiple reasons for this significant impact, but there’s a clue that stood out to me as very relevant here:
“These so-called Rosenwald Schools had the best architectural designs of the time, with big windows to maximize sunlight — there was no electricity — good sanitation and good ventilation.”
Could it be that the physical design of Rosenwald schools played a role in the significant long-term positive outcomes associated with these schools?
“On a cloudless summer day, sunlight touched nearly every corner of the building with the help of vast windows and sun tubes; experts say that students learn better when they are exposed to natural light.
The building, too, is designed to be incorporated in lessons. With a rooftop full of solar panels and a geothermal-well system to heat and cool water, it will be a “net-zero” building . . .
The school will feature a rooftop solar lab with a moveable solar array, allowing students to learn about the photovoltaic panels fueling their school. Signs will teach them about the geothermal wells.”
Even the school’s layout is intended to be built into lessons.