Progressive Architecture

| November 17, 2010

Horace Mann Kindergarten Classroom In Teachers College Building. (Date Not Known) (n/a, 1900-1950)

Last week I found myself trying to lay out for my colleagues—in preparation for an upcoming Colloquium by Kevin D. Murphy, on school architecture—the essential relationship between philosophies of education and architecture. Tricky, since this relationship tends to go deep underground. Into caves, for example.

And the challenge is to realize that it is not just that architecture can be used, after the fact, to reflect a particular philosophy of education, say in a school, but that educational thought is in a fundamental way architectural.

Which is to say, it’s complicated. And the devil is in the details, which often elude us, hiding in plain sight.

Take the architectural challenge of progressive education, for example. Breaking with the neo-classic orientation of architecture, who’s facade’s both invoke and defend the space of education as a distinctly ‘other’ space, the progressive dream seems to be that the space of the school should be in communication with surrounding life (even if that winds up being a factory.) This is not the place to go into all of the implications of this. Nor, as the images below will attest, is it so simple. But I wanted to at least point us to some examples, that for many will be close to home.

A little while ago, I culled a few images from the Archives of Teachers College, that are suggestive of the tension in progressive education around the role of the body, and physical education. Without commenting further, I will just turn our attention to a related set of images that speak to both the diversity of use of educational spaces that accompanies progressive education, as well as the way in which they establish (and modify) a relationship to the other spaces of the city. We might also speculate on how the use of these spaces has shifted over time. (For example, the overhead track you see in the image of the gymnasium can still be found by an intrepid spelunker, but now overlooks a tiny village of office spaces.)

Without further ado…

Thompson Hall. Students In The Swimming Pool. Teachers College.

Thompson Hall. Students In The Swimming Pool. Teachers College. (Ca. 1900)

Thompson Hall. Class Of Boys In The Gym. Teachers College. (Date Not Known) (1900-1950)

Wood Working Class. Mr. Vroom, Instructor, At Left. 9 University Place. Teachers College. (Date Not Known) (1900-1950)

Class Studying The Rocks Of New York. 9 University Place. Teachers College. (Date Not Known) (1900-1950)

Wood Carving Class. Mr. Vroom, Instructor. 9 University Place. Teachers College. (Date Not Know) (1900-1950)

Wood Carving Class. 9 University Place. Teachers College. (Date Not Known) (n/a, 1900-1950)

Macy Hall. The Forge Shop. Teachers College. (Date Not Known) (n/a,1900-1950)

Horace Mann Kindergarten Room, Nature Corner. Teachers College. (Date Not Known) (n/a, 1900-1950)

Horace Mann, Teachers College. Interior. Main Entrance With Lemnian Athene. (Date Not Known) (n/a, 1900-1950)

Dodge Hall. First Laundry Classroom Before 1910. Teachers College. (Date Not Known) (n/a, 1900-1950), by Photographer: Ambrose Fowler

121st Street And Amsterdam Avenue, Northwest Corner Behind The Fence. Teachers College. (August, 1896)

120th Street And Amsterdam Avenue, Northwest Corner, Winter. Teachers College. (1895-96)

Pupil At Desk With Manual Training Desk Cover, 9 University Place. Teachers College. (1893)

House On Mrs. McKert’s Farm, North Side Of 121st Street, Between Broadway And Amsterdam Avenue. Teachers College. (August, 1896)

Speyer School, Teachers College. From The Northeast. Under Construction. (Fall 1902)

Arithmetic Class. Seventh Grade. 9 University Place. Teachers College. (1893)


These images are provided courtesy of the Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College, Columbia University.