Thursday, July 24, 2014

Architectural Notes from the Neighborhood - HYCC kids study, observe, learn

...How is it that months slip by so quickly?  Suddenly Spring is
behind us and summer blazing... My apologies for such a long
delay in posts.  As one ages, it seems like time speeds up rather
than slowing down.
One of the activities that kept me busy this Spring was working
with Hawthorne Youth and Community Center's after school
kids  in a project we called "Architectural notes from the
Neighborhood." Landscape architect (and neighbor) Jessica
Leete and I were the facilitators of the 10 week project funded
through a grant from the Boston Foundation for Architecture.
The BFA gives a variety of grants to non-profits and groups in
the Boston area. The ones HYCC has received have made a real
impact on  the kids we work with. Last year we studied
greenhouses and  built a model designed by the kids (see my
 6/29/13 post and 6/15/12 for "making ours green")

Our historic Boston inner city neighborhood is filled with many
styles of architecture from Colonial, Italianate, Greek
Revival, Victorian, medieval to modern and everything in
between.  The project aim was to  help the kids become closer
observers of the neighborhood and  in turn the world around
them.  We did this through taking walks in our Highland Park,
Roxbury community, talking about what we saw and having
them record their observations through note taking, drawing,
and photography.

Usually when you place cameras in  kids' hands, there is an
automatic reaction to take photos of each other We allowed
a bit of that, but kept the focus on the buildings.   We didn't
dictate which houses or features of buildings they wanted to
document so were intrigued to see "their" perspectives.
It's great having digital cameras so you don't have to
limit number of photos taken.  The kids shared three cameras.
As you can see, some of the kids (ages 5-12) have fantastic "eyes"
for  design. It's going to be fun to watch these "Jr. architects"

Jessica worked on drawing with them, teaching them
blind contour drawings - drawing without looking at
their paper, and slowing their eye and hand down to observe
closely....and importantly not worry about what the end
result was on the paper.  The  exercise  helped them
concentrate on line and shape, rather than finished drawing.

 Then they moved on to looking at paper and object. The
 exercise made a  difference in the final drawings the kids made.
 Drawing is definitely not my strength, so I plan on doing more
of the exercise myself. One 2nd grader did an amazing job of
capturing this house.

We talked to them about various architectural styles and
taught them lots of architectural terms to help them talk
about what they saw.  It was fun to see their excitement at
being able to identify features as we walked from their school
to the center - "Hey, that's a gable dormer!!...I see a gambrel
roof".That's a mansard roof, isn't it?"..and to hear their
questions and comments  about the new houses being built
which we watched change day by day. (There is a lot of
construction going on in our neighborhood rehab and new.)

Interactive games always help learning...

Jessica printed  a time line of styles on large format paper along
with some terms. We added photos they had taken and the kids
drew lines connecting features. They saw how many houses
incorporate elements from various styles.  They shared the
game  with parents at our final  presentation at Haley House
bakery Cafe ,challenging  their parents to put term cards on
the big sheet next to photos.

We also  made a matching  game using all their photos
and cards with terms.    Parents and kids played the
game at the celebration.  It will continue to be used
at HYCC and added to.  This fall we'll have the kids
photograph the houses they saw being built so they
can be in the game next to construction photos.

An additional  "product" from the project was a set of 12
note cards.  Together, we looked over the hundreds  of photos 
taken  and voted on 8  favorites  to make into photo note cards. 
We printed up 4 more using  a collage of drawings using
one drawing from each student.  (We thank  BFS Repro 
Graphics  for helping support the printing.)  Each student
received a set of the cards as a  reward for their work. Extras
were made to thank supporters and to sell in the neighborhood
to help fund other activities at HYCC.

Each student wrote up a final paper about a favorite building
including one of their photos and/or a drawing; then presented 
them orally at our final celebration.  To continue the sharing, 
we put up a display of the project at the Dudley Branch library 
for the community to enjoy all summer  (The bench below the
display was made  during a  previous HYCC project.) 

And to encourage summer reading, we left some bookmarks
with drawings by the HYCC kids in the library. 

As these "Jr. architects" walk around the neighborhood and
other places this summer, we're confident they will "see"
in new ways thanks to the project.  I know every time I take
a walk now, I see architectural details I'd never noticed.
As the quote by Arthur Clark in my studio says: "Every
adult needs a child to teach; it's the way adults learn."

More about teaching and children and libraries in my next 
post, one which will go back to our trip to Ecuador. 

Have a great summer everyone...

Adventure on   Wendy