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The Darmstäddter Gespräch was developed under the theme Mensch und Raum (Man and Space) bringing together recognised philosophers, sociologists and architects. Some of the leading figures were José Ortega y Gasset and Martín Heidegger, who gave his famous conference Bauen Wohnen Denken.

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Taken from an interview with Hertzberger published in Metalocus on 11 February 2016.

Schools as cities, playgrounds as squares

Series Playgrounds, James Mollison photographed on playgrounds in different cities around the world

Architecture oftentimes addresses concepts that go beyond built structures. Such is the case with school buildings, envisaged by some architects as more than mere public facilities, but rather as pieces which, in and of themselves, epitomise cities.

In 1951 Hans Scharoun explored the relationship between man and space through designing a primary school building in Darmstadt within the Darmstädter Gespräch event,1 aiming to place humans as the most important reference for measurement in architectural work. Scharoun was interested in the school brief because it represented a “small city where democracy, as a universal principle, was to be realised”. Recently, Herman Hertzberger, author of the well-known Delft Montessori school and significant philosopher considering physical spaces in schools, asserted that schools are the best examples for talking about what is public.  To quote him, “School buildings are a sort of urban planning, and basically, what I do is urban planning architecture”.2

This urban vision of schools opens up a new perspective for conceiving their spaces as they are reinterpreted through the lens of what is collective. If schools are cities, then playgrounds are squares and are therefore one of the most important and educational public spaces in our childhoods. In these schoolyards, often addressed only residually, camaraderie, interaction, solidarity and equality are the learning issues taking place outside the classroom, without any books or teachers. This is the point of view that the photographer James Mollison chose for his series Playgrounds, a set of pictures taken in different cities around the world revealing the wealth of social relations that take place in the brief period of time spanned by recess.

Series Playgrounds, James Mollison photographed on playgrounds in different cities around the world.

If we add to all of this the vision of pedagogue Loris Malaguzzi, who asserts that “space is the third teacher”, then shouldn’t we take special care in the design, since that is where social and environmental values are learnt from “living”? Won’t these values forebode what we demand of public space in our cities as adults?

Playgrounds’ urban dimension becomes particularly visible through certain specific designs that blur boundaries between city and school.  One example is opening school playgrounds for the neighbourhood outside school hours and another, vice versa, using squares as playgrounds for schools that have only scant outdoor space. At the same time, citizens’ participation strategies, normally used in designs on an urban scale, are becoming instated in schools as an effective mechanism for collective building. Architects intervene by providing professional consultancy and even by running workshops for students.

If playgrounds are the first public space in our childhood, then we should try to make them the best possible models, without ever forgetting the fact that their design must factor in the specific way that children and youngsters relate to each other.  Perhaps that will enable us to demand and improve our common space in our cities in the future given that, as Karl A. Meninger would say, “What children are given is what children will give to society”.


Text translated by Beth Gelb

Notas de página
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The Darmstäddter Gespräch was developed under the theme Mensch und Raum (Man and Space) bringing together recognised philosophers, sociologists and architects. Some of the leading figures were José Ortega y Gasset and Martín Heidegger, who gave his famous conference Bauen Wohnen Denken.

2

Taken from an interview with Hertzberger published in Metalocus on 11 February 2016.

Autor:
Es arquitecta por la ETSA de Sevilla (2003) y Máster en Arquitectura y Patrimonio Histórico (2008). Primer premio por su fin de carrera en la XXI Edición del Premio Dragados. Se forma en el estudio de Ricardo Alario, con quien comparte actualmente actividad profesional . En 2011 funda junto a Tibisay Cañas, Laura Organvídez, Ana Parejo y Sara Parrilla cuartocreciente arquitectura, una iniciativa creada con el objetivo de mejorar los tres espacios principales en los que se desarrolla la niñez (casa, escuela y ciudad) a través de la investigación, los talleres de arquitectura, la realización de proyectos y el diseño de objetos. Actualmente desarrolla un tesis sobre el espacio de juego exterior en la infancia, dirigida por Ángel Martínez García-Posada. Ha escrito y presentado diversas comunicaciones sobre el playground y el juego del niño en la ciudad.

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