In college, all of my courses were taught in one building: Hathaway Hall. As one of the main buildings on my college campus, there were few students who could escape entering the foreboding structure. Built in 1967, Hathaway Hall was an impressive and remarkable architectural wonder, with its imposing angles and concrete, fortress-like appearance. As a Political Science major, a majority of my classes were held in the evening, either on the first floor, or in the basement of the building. Prior to class, my emotions would go through a tailspin. First, these were my favorite classes. I loved the conversations around politics and political theory. Yet the location of the class was less desirable than the information I gathered.
Allow me to explain. Classrooms within Hathaway Hall were large concrete blocks which often felt cold and ominous. The absence of eye level windows cast a shadow over the room. A description posted onFrankfortpublicart.com describes the building as follows:
It has a flat roof, which was a new feature of buildings at that time, and is devoid of ornamentation. The classroom windows are placed near the ceiling, which allows light to pour into the rooms but doesn’t allow students to “be distracted” by staring out the window --an experimental idea of the time. In 1968 it became the first building in Kentucky to win an Institute Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.
The popularity of these buildings was massive. Buildings like these appeared not only in Kentucky, but in various other locations around the city.
I remember seeing buildings like these on other campuses that I visited before enrolling at Kentucky State University. This style of architecture--called Brutalism--was largely influenced by the work of Swiss architect, designer, urban planner Le Corbusier. His first large scale project, Unité d'Habitation in Marseille, France was completed in 1952 as a multi-family residential project, built to house French citizens who were dislocated after the World War II bombing of France. For Le Corbusier and others, the aesthetics on the outside were secondary to the production that occurred within those buildings. Perhaps, this intent was not blatantly spoken; it was just the mindset of many academicians at the time. We were to learn, recite, and produce. We were shackled to our seats. The physical environment (the classroom, building, campus, geography) was merely background noise to our larger educational environment.
As we sat in class, slivers of sunlight snuck into the room through small rectangular windows placed close to the ceiling. The humdrum sound of the fluorescent lights merged with the monotonous voice of my professor, creating an orchestral canon. At times it became hypnotic to the point of exhaustion. During class breaks, I would leave the building or stand near the entryway observing the ecosystem of the campus. This was a reprieve from the monotony of the classroom, and yet I had to return. Upon returning to class, I reclaimed my seat and continued the exercise. I raised my hand. I recited facts and provided textual evidence. I spoke about the world, while the world transformed outside.
How do we provide our students with transformative moments? How do we move from boxes (classrooms, teaching praxis, budgetary limitations) into an intellectual space where our students can walk in the sunshine?
In our pedagogy, we are constantly bombarded with a litany of “best practices,” ideas that are adopted by the masses to revolutionize how we teach. These approaches are typically focused on improving metacognition within a traditional brick and mortar environment. We access textbooks, classroom design, revitalize subject areas, and work to create inclusive classrooms. However, attention should also be paid to the way that we incorporate the world into our lessons. In other words, we are providing our students with a window seat out on the real world. This real-world exposure might come in the form of speakers, visits to the DeKalb Farmers Market, walks through the Old Fourth Ward, or conversations with local neighborhood planning units (NPUs). In this way, education is not delivered in isolation; rather these experiential events all complement the lessons that they learn in school.
Furthermore, we are trying not only to transform minds; we want also to implement change. We want to provide students with the information and context so that they can transform their city. This context is part of the skill set they need to effectively revitalize the city. By providing our students with window seats onto the world, we can do this expeditiously.
-- Aretina Hamilton, Lab Atlanta faculty
-Aretina Hamilton, Lab Atlanta Faculty