High Schools Should Include Architecture as a Subject – Marin Independent Magazine
Sometimes I need a wake-up call, an experience that draws my attention to something important that was barely a blip on my radar screen.
I had a wake-up call when I visited the Danish Architecture Center (DAC) during our trip to Copenhagen. The featured exhibition “So Danish” impressed me with the importance of architecture.
It is the center’s first permanent exhibition on Danish architecture.
As the DAC’s description notes, it showcases the history of Danish architecture, giving the visitor “the opportunity to travel into architecture and understand how absolutely important it is to our democratic society.”
I previously thought that architecture was mostly the design of buildings. My time in the exhibition section on Jan Gehl, a famous Danish architect, taught me that this concept was very limited.
Gil’s marriage between building design and everyday experience, as well as his dedication to improving urban life by focusing on pedestrians and cyclists, has taught me that architecture is much more than that.
Architecture is usually described as the profession of designing buildings, open areas, communities and other structures and artificial environments, usually with some concern for aesthetic effect. It is a social art and an artistic science.
It also occurred to me that the high school I was at, the school I was teaching at and most of the places I visited as an educator, did not have an architecture course.
Why should it be important to include it in secondary schools? The famous former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, put it clearly: “There is absolutely no doubt about the influence of architecture and structure on human character and action. We make our buildings and then they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.”
We live in a house, many of us work in an office and our children go to class at school. These places help shape our daily lives.
Given that architecture encompasses and/or is closely related to many disciplines, it has great importance for our social system. The architecture of our towns and cities, the character of our homes and offices, and the aesthetic qualities of the built environment can enrich our lives, making them an important subject of study. It can also introduce students to exciting career paths.
Due to its interdisciplinary nature, architecture also provides an opportunity to help teach students to synthesize a variety of disciplines and answer the call of leading educators for more interdisciplinary courses.
We can learn from Denmark, where architecture is an integral part of the school curriculum and addresses topics such as urban planning, sustainability, climate change and the built environment. In addition, architecture education is provided in many art schools, museums and cultural institutions.
If you are a high school principal, I recommend creating an interdisciplinary elective. Seek help from a few teachers in two or three of the disciplines that include architecture. Consider hiring a local architectural firm to obtain funding to support teachers to work over the summer to design the course. There are a number of firms in Marin with excellent architects and some of them invest heavily in good architecture education.
Although teaching students line drawing, modeling, and building design is often the focus of introductory courses, I suggest starting with activities that can stimulate teens, perhaps a slide show with photos of some exciting modern buildings.
There are abundant resources available online. At the very least, make sure you consider the book Architecture for Teens to help guide planning and as a course text.
Consider including the amazing works of some of today’s famous female architects. It is an excellent field to introduce to young women. The book “Women Who Changed Architecture” is very good.
As a final experiment, consider asking students to come up with ideas and designs for redesigning their school.
Architecture is a very important subject and should be included in every one of our secondary schools. As part of its effort to provide more interdisciplinary courses focused on building real-world skills, the Branson School is considering piloting this course in the very near future.
I hope this provides guidance and motivation for other Marin high schools.
Mark Phillips of Woodacre is Professor Emeritus of Education at San Francisco State University.