There is a knock at the door; it opens, and with it floods in the fresh morning air and a myriad of little bodies and backpacks. Excitedly they make their way to empty chairs and tables that promise the coming of new adventure.
Every year, Lars invites the students of Sunridge School Class 3 to participate in a teaching project with the intention of exposing youth to architectural concepts and constructs. Students build architectural forms that are then collectively displayed on the wall at 108 Art & Design, where the students are hosted.
Architecture is not a part of a typical school cirriculum. It is mostly taught at a higher level of education, and only in lower grades if students are very lucky. What began as a way for Lars to participate in his own daughter’s class at Sunridge School, has turned into an annual tradition for Class 3 students to visit the office and build on the concepts of form and structure from their classroom learnings and create 3-D architectural models.
“Can anyone tell me what architecture is?”, Lars poses the question to the room. Arms shoot into the air, and little voices, one by one, excitedly share their ideas. Lars seizes the opportunity to expand on their thoughts.
Picking up an oversized book about architectural innovator, Louis I. Khan, Lars opens it to a two-page, color photograph of an external view of the library at Phillips Exeter Academy. He shares his impressions of the structure, it’s imposing form, it’s seriousness, with the same soft-spoken precision he uses with clients and collegues that gently draws you in. There are hums and grunts of understanding from his young audience.
He then turns the page to show another full page, color photograph, this time of the interior of that same serious building. Enormous circular cutouts from cement reveal four stories of horizontal bands of books and ballastrades that appear like striped kickballs of whimsy, and the room collectively exclaims, “Ooooooo..!”
Utilizing a methodology and process he learned in graduate school, Lars gives guidelines to the students on how to build models that allows them to explore and rely on their own imaginations, while seeing successful results quickly. Little bottoms wiggle in their seats with happy anticipation.
To inspire the class, Lars reads aloud from Italo Calvino’s, “Invisible Cities”. The book is a series of shorts, the storytelling by Marco Polo to an aged Kublai Khan of the cities he has seen on his travels when, in truth, each of his fantastic tales is really just another way to describe the same place. With animation, Lars proceeds —
“What meaning does your construction have?” he asks. […”]What is the plan you are following, the blueprint?”
“We will show it to you as soon as the working day is over; we cannot interrupt out work now,” they answer.
Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. “There is the blueprint,” they say.
– Italo Calvino, “Invisible Cities”
“Let each of you look to the sky for inspiration as you work,” Lars assures them, encouraging them to find their own voice, their own expression and not to worry what their neighbors are doing as they work.
Cardboard boxes, the platform for the structures, and three unique colors and shapes of cardstock board are passed out to eager hands. The glue is poured. And, from an empty canvas, new worlds are created from the stacking of shapes and color.
Some students build their structures tall, some are restrained, some struggle with the constraints and process, and some get lost in their work. All of them, however, are fascinated and fully engaged with the materials.
Lars takes a moment with each child to write their names on their projects before they leave. They are eager to regale him with the life their new models hold, it’s unique story, the purpose the shapes and forms have in supporting their tale.
And, in watching them line up two-by-two to return to their classroom, there is hope; the seeds of ideas and imagination germinate as these little people look to the sky.