FOLLOWING THE ARCHITECTURE TRAIL BY KERSTIN MCCLINTIC
23 Jul 2016 8:44 PM | Carroll Smith
This past spring, walking down the beautiful, lush green, tree-filled Main Street, we were finally on our architecture walk. I had a set plan that had taken me quite a while to prepare; it was on the papers in my hand that I had diligently researched and studied so that I would sound knowledgeable to my children. We live in a capitol city in the historic South where there is so much history that can be learned from just stopping by places and talking to local people; or even, reading maps and signs scattered along the country roads. We have been including architecture into our learning since 2010, when our good friend Kerri Forney encouraged me, with several other friends, to include the book A Child’s History of Art: Architecture by V. M. Hillyer and E. G. Huey into our history studies to round out our lessons. My children, who were 7 and 4 at the time, enjoyed our readings and were enthusiastic about drawing and talking about many of the elements they were learning in our book. It was a great introduction to different types of patterns that one would see while looking at a building, monument, or sculpture. The book also introduced us to many people, groups of people, time periods, and architectural vocabulary that offered us a great foundation for our future studies with the subject. I started to hear the children talk about these aspects as we drove around our city and countryside for various lessons or classes.
The following summer, as I was continually reading Mason’s volumes, I was struck with new ideas about our study of architecture. Mason says,
‘Education is the Science of Relations’; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of-
‘Those first-born affinities that fit our new existence to existing things’. (Volume 6: xxx)
Children need a wide and varied education using the literary value of books; and we, as teachers, must trust that the Holy Spirit will work in their minds to give abundant wisdom to continue to want to know about knowledge and life.
But how did architecture fit into this wonderful varied way of learning? I know some of you may be overwhelmed at the amount of books our children read in a given term. Since “history is the pivot” (Volume 3, p. 224), I believe we need to continue to keep our focus on the historical time period in which we are studying. Let us consider this writing from Mason,
‘It will be observed that the work throughout the Forms is always chronologically progressive. The young student rarely goes over old ground; but should it happen that the whole school has arrived at the end of 1920, say, and there is nothing for it but to begin again, the books studied throw new light and bring the young students into line with modern research. But any sketch of the history teaching . . . in a given period depends upon a notice of the ‘literature’ set; for plays, novels, essays, ‘lives,’ poems, are all pressed into service and where it is possible, the architecture, painting, etc., which the period produced. (Volume 6: 177, 178, emphasis is mine)
I find it interesting that, just as with the study of history, architecture is chronologically progressive, we use it to add to our studies, when possible, and to bring new ideas to our students, rarely covering old ground; when we get to the present time, we start over again at the beginning.
[Architecture] “is an entrancing subject of study. This is a real introduction to real history. The portraits (pictures, illustrations) are an especially valuable feature of the work” (Vol. 1: p. 291, emphasis mine). And our mentor also mentions, “We do what is possible to introduce children to Architecture; and we practise clay-modelling and the various artistic handicrafts, but there is nothing unusual in our work in these directions” (Volume 6: 217, emphasis mine).
This description of Mason‘s exam questions, also gives us more clues into how she treated the study of architecture: “’How would you distinguish between Early, Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic? Give drawings.’ Questions like these, it will be seen, cover a good deal of field work, and the study of some half dozen carefully selected books on natural history, botany, architecture and astronomy, the principle being that children shall observe and chronicle, but shall not depend upon their own unassisted observation.” (Volume 6: 220, emphasis mine)
As I was preparing for a new year with my students that autumn, I knew that I needed to shift my focus, especially in the area of books. Being a lover of old and new books, and knowing there was not much time to include architecture, a subject that both children were extremely interested in, I wanted to continue to provide opportunities for them to revel in their knowledge of this subject (Volume 6: p. 77). Providing relationships with people is one of the joys to this relational liberal arts education, so, I reasoned, just as Mason placed a focus on musicians, artists, poets, biographies of scientists and people of history, I needed to have the children choose from a list of architects in our historical time period. After mulling over different books from the library about various architects; we zeroed in on choosing one, and off we were reading about Pericles and his friends, Ictinus, Callicrates, and Phidias. How he beautified his country of Greece by overseeing the most ambitious building program in Greek history–the building of the Parthenon. Using Anne Rockwell’s beautifully written book, we learned that besides costing enormous amounts of money to build, the Parthenon was completed in about 10-15 years, despite attempts to derail the project by Pericles’ political opponents. Made from 20 thousand tons of marble, quarried from nearby Mount Pentelicus, the huge cost of the project was financed by a treasury of the Delian league that wasn’t too happy about the money being used for this sort of thing. We learned about pediments, cellae, coffer ceilings, triglyphs and frieze, entablature, the layout of the Acropolis, all in the context of the literary, story form. Along the way we learned a good bit about the Greek government. We read about various projects, not just one, completed by many architects, engineers, and other tradesmen working all together. Architecture shows that it is a profession that has to do with science: physics, geology, nature, technology, mathematics, history, citizenship, geography and art.
Architecture flows over into other areas of our desire to learn. By studying architecture, my family and I have been interested in learning all we can about the creative and talented people who have this vision of how things work, how things are fashioned, and how they are designed into space and time.
Some examples of our lessons include studying the art of glassblowing from modern artist Dale Chihuly because of his commissioned pieces at our local museum of art. This led to our study of glass design and stonework with Frank Lloyd Wright then following up with a visit to Wrights’ only plantation home in the South, Auldbrass, to see up close and personal the work of this organic architect who used the landscape so beautifully within his projects.
After studying the life of Philip Simmons, we piled into the car for a road trip to see the ironwork of our artist and blacksmith who made iron gates for homes, gardens and businesses all over the beautiful cities of our hometowns, Columbia and Charleston. I still cannot believe we made it to meet Philip about 2 years before he passed away at the age of 97. I think of his favorite saying often, ‘If you want your prayers answered, get up off your knees and hustle.’
We then moved on to study the life of Antoni Gaudí focusing on his ironwork and other materials on the façade of Palau Guëll, one of his famous buildings. Inspired by the ironworks and buildings we saw with Philip‘s work, we are always wanting to learn about the person, such as Antoni Gaudí, within our historical period of study.
After studying and visiting our local landscape architect Pearl Fryar, and seeing his topiary garden, this led us to the study of the life of Frederick Law Olmstead who did commissioned work at the Biltmore Estate. He also did work near my family’s home in Buffalo and Niagara. Someday soon we hope to make the trip to the US Capitol to see Olmstead’s gardens and to tour the beautiful buildings from many architects, engineers and artists who contributed to the plan of the city.
Trying to make an effort to visit your local architects’ and landscape architects’ various projects adds another layer of knowledge to our lessons that always starts a grand conversation. Architecture truly enhances our knowledge of the business of education (Volume 6, p. 54). Although sometimes it is hard to know who to study when a building or monument is made from many visions of various people, it really is the living book you find about the person that is important and these books are there to be discovered. Even using the Internet to find an educational website or video with knowledgeable information about the architect is an appropriate way to study.
Who will we study next? I am wondering that myself, yet I know that we will always enjoy the process: the reading, the observing, the seeking to know, and the learning about inspiring lives. Looking locally, we may go visit the Robert Mills House after reading about his life as the first architect born and trained in the US. Maybe we will plan a trip to see a local Indian mound, or read about my son’s namesake, King Josiah in the Old Testament, drawing the details of the tabernacle he rebuilt into our journals. Perhaps we will look in the backyard to study the architecture of our bird and spider friends, or look to the stars to see God’s handiwork, since He is the Master Builder. Maybe my son will check out a book he’s read many times in our local library, about the boy who harnessed the wind, helping his town and family by building a windmill. But I regress; on this day, we are walking down our Main Street, stopping to stare up at the palmetto leaf motif of Gothic Revival with cotton boll and corn detail on the façade of our captivating limestone and terra cotta Palmetto Building.
© 2016 by Kerstin McClintic