Lab Atlanta attracts explorers. It attracts minds who are curious, souls who are restless, and intrepid learners with a taste for adventure, their eyes trained on distant horizons. Our pioneering class of students fits this profile seamlessly, as do our founding faculty. Recent Field Notes posts here attest to our Lab Atlanta yen for exploring. Yet this thirsting for quests is hardly unique to us; for we follow proudly in a long, rich line of inveterate explorers.
Harvard professor John Stilgoe is among our inspiring exemplars in extolling exploration and keen observation. He writes eloquently about the virtues of exploring in his masterful meditation called Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places. “The explorer notices and ponders and notices,” Stilgoe notes. Nor is he being carelessly redundant by repeating “notices” here. Rather, he stresses the recursive nature of exploring and noticing. Really noticing entails “looking again”--and again: truly “re-specting” each other and our surroundings, quite intentionally. “The real focus of all my teaching is the necessity to get out and look around,” he confesses, “to see acutely, to notice, to make connections”. A similar commitment to honing our observational powers as “acute, mindful explorer(s)” motivates us all as we launch Lab Atlanta, too.
“Explorers quickly learn that exploring means sharpening all the senses, especially sight,” Stilgoe continues, evoking the famous cartoon by Christopher Pearse Cranch lampooning Ralph Waldo Emerson for his “transparent eyeball” conceit in his essay Nature.
Emerson was a Harvard alumnus himself, steeped in the liberal arts ideals of that esteemed institution. He was also a classical scholar, well familiar with the etymological origins and nuances of Latinate words. So Emerson might not be at all surprised by how Stilgoe glosses “exploring” in this passage from Outside Lies Magic: “Exploration is a liberal art, because it is an art that liberates, that frees, that opens away from narrowness. And it is fun.” Precisely. Liberating learning is fun. This realization drives us as we embark on co-creating Lab Atlanta. “Exploration encourages creativity, serendipity, invention,” Stilgoe concludes. And so will Lab Atlanta.
It seems fitting, then, to close here with an excerpt from one of our first LAB ATL students’ application essays, which aptly expresses this intrepid mindset: “I have always loved travel and learning about new places, and in the past couple years, I have really tried to explore different parts of Atlanta outside of where I live in Buckhead. I have fallen in love with this city and the many different layers and areas of it. Through familiarizing myself more with it, I have been able to look at both Atlanta and myself through a different lens.”
Exploration and close observation can have such profoundly transformative effects, enabling us to see ourselves, each other, and our city through new and different lenses. So, in order to develop civically engaged, design-minded leaders focused on building a vibrant and sustainable future for themselves and the city of Atlanta, that’s exactly how and where we will start.