Environment as the Third Teacher
A school is more than just its students, teachers, and textbooks; it also includes a building, which is essential to a child’s education and personal growth. Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio-Emilia educational philosophy in the early twentieth century, called the environment the “third teacher,” together with a student’s parents and teachers. In its full manifestation, the multidimensional school environment inspires and nurtures children by activating all of their senses—a position that Core Architecture Studio II explored this semester.
All eight Core II studios focused on the design of a K-8 public school on the site of P.S. 64, located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Designed by C.B.J. Snyder in 1906, P.S. 64 served as a New York City public school for seventy years before it was shuttered. Today, the building remains abandoned. As part of the research for their design projects, Core II students visited the vacant building, studied its history, and evaluated its current condition in order to envision ways to revitalize the site as a contemporary school.
How can a building both react to and affect pedagogy? When a child feels safe and supported, they will take risks and embrace challenges. How do we design spaces that nurture and inspire individual children so they can reach their fullest potential? At the same time, how does a school, as a civic institution, connect to its community and promote fruitful interactions between the students and the community? How do our schools reflect our cultural values and prepare children for their own futures (not just our present)? How do we build a school today that will serve not only this generation of children, but also the next?
Through many scales of engagement—from the site in general to the detail of a brick—students devised careful interventions in the existing structure. An essential aspect of the curriculum prompted students to emphasize low-embodied carbon structural design. In response, projects reused the existing building or elements of it, integrating new materials with low-embodied carbon footprints and thoroughly considering the future use and lifespan of the structure.
Learning is not limited to the young, nor is it confined to a given place or a given time. Learning happens everywhere.
As institutions well integrated into the fabric of the city, schools have the potential to evolve from isolated educational silos into broader cultural platforms active in the public realm. This studio sets out to re-imagine schools as an open-ended, multivalent civic infrastructure for learning that sits at the center of contemporary urban life – spaces able to participate more actively in urban life while welcoming communities to become more engaged with school life.