Castle/shelter made of chairs and blankets, by Jimena Echarte (Author’s image)
Little girls make castles. Little shelters made of material, chairs, shawls, and clothes pegs; full of blankets, lights, and books.
Little girls—and not so little girls—build little bubbles inside their rooms; spaces containing so many toys that they themselves are toys. Shelters that are delicate and fragile materially but impenetrable and solid in the imagination.
There is no need to go back to Bachelard and his nest space. No, it’s much simpler than that: Little girls make castles. Shelters.
We tend to forget that, for many girls, school is that shelter. It’s an ordered, warm (or cool) place where they are listened to and where there is a certain degree of protection: that mixture of space, programme and users that turns some places into what Antonio Miranda calls “architecture that civilises”.
Last year’s health emergency forced teachers to solve problems almost as they arose. They had few resources and their workload practically doubled as they strove not to leave anyone behind, but the overall result was commendable (thank you).
And yet remote classes are not the answer. Social contact is just as important as course content, but it becomes very difficult via a screen. Remote classes also mean extra effort, an effort which, in a high percentage of cases, is taken on by women, thus overloading, if not directly wiping out, their daily work routines.
This state of affairs is typically illustrated in the shape of homes equipped with Wi-Fi, where each member of the family has a computer. Homes with spaces, some better than others, which allow for a certain amount of privacy. Places that are shelters.
But what happens when such a refuge does not exist because, as Banham would say, a home is not a house? What happens when there is no Wi-Fi? Or books. Or privacy. When the space is literally not there.
And returning to what we were saying, what happens when that shelter is school? When school is not an extension to the stronghold we made with pillows last night in the living room, but the Alamo? The line in the sand. The place that protects us. The only place that protects us.
Going back to that shelter seems increasingly more necessary. In some cases, indispensable.
Of course, architecture has a lot to do. There´ll be time later to talk about land speculation, the plague of low rents for tourists, gentrification, and the nonsense spouted in certain media outlets when the Basque government published its housing decree (which, incidentally, now doesn’t seem quite so hare-brained).
Right now, it’s time to talk about schools. About what we can do to improve them. About Van Eyck. About light, ventilation, and classrooms open to the exterior.
Allow me to recall the errors of heroic modernity. In the face of loud discourses in which the word “policy” appears almost as frequently as the word “mechanism”, it’s good to accept that architecture doesn’t have all the answers. It may also be wise to remember that, when talking about schools, student-teacher ratios should be lower. That teachers should earn much more. That they should be given resources and clarity of vision, as much as possible.
That the real solution is not to move everything to remote classes, but to provide the work and inspection mechanisms to ensure that a girl with a fever doesn’t end up spending all morning in class with just a paracetamol because her parents (usually her mother) are afraid of losing their jobs or because work-family balance is impossible.
José María Echarte
Arquitecto por la ETSAM (2000) y como tal ha trabajado en su propio estudio en concursos nacionales e internacionales, en obras publicas y en la administración. Desde 2008 es coeditor junto a María Granados y Juan Pablo Yakubiuk del blog n+1.
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