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Designing for touch, reach and movement in post-war English primary and infant schools | Catherine Burke - Academia.edu
"
Clothes quickly pile up on the desks as children busily undress for the dance lesson. The first to change are soon by the door, ready to make their way to the hall, their bare feet wriggling impatiently in their shoes for the moment when they can kick them off and spring on to the hall floor. On the way along the corridor the bodies bustle and an animated walk threatens to break into running ... Once inside the hall, a line of shoes immediately appears under chairs lined up along the wall and swift bare feet dart and prance in lively stepping and jumping. Some rush across the space exhilarated by the feel of air against their faces, some pluck their feet off the floor in hops and leaps, and others swing wide their arms in unrestrained gesture which sweeps them high onto their toes, or pulls them into an off-balance suspension that dissolves into the slack of a downwards spiral. Soon the teacher calls for the classÕs attention and the lesson begins." (McKittrick, 1972: 11)."

Introduction

In his seminal work, About Looking, John Berger (1980) succeeded in opening up new avenues of critical discussion focused on visual texts and the impact of such on their makers and audiences. Ways of Seeing reminded us that seeing comes before words and that the infant looks and recognizes before it can speak (Berger, 2008 front cover). Seeing comes before speaking, but touching is a necessary part of understanding, while movement affords freedom and enables choice. As Raymond Tallis has eloquently established, the pointing finger is a fundamental sign of the human mind in the exercise of its powers of observation and discernment (Tallis, 2010). Together, the sense of touch, the facility of reach and the act of movement imply living fully. It has been long noted that the first sense experienced by infants in exploring the world is touch (Charlton Deas 1913-26 in Grosvenor & MacNab 2013). The sense of touch has been examined by scholars in relation to a range of perspectives involving teaching and learning including object lessons (Keene 2008) and tactile engagement in the context of visual impairment (Grosvenor & McNab 2013). Outside of schools, the sense of touch has been used as a lens to appreciate and explore the experience of learning in museums (Chatterjee 2008; Classen 2005; Pye 2008). The principal anatomical parts involved in touch - the fingers and the hand - have been subjected to critical and creative scrutiny within cross-disciplinary discussions about what it means to be human (Napier 1993; Tallis 2010). In a previously published article (Burke & Cunningham, 2011), I explored with Peter Cunningham the significance of hands as part of what might be called the choreography of the classroom. In that piece we noted how the relationship between the hand and cognitive function has been well established and recognized by teachers and others (Sennett 2008). We also noted how ‘critique of how children were encased in unsuitable or uncomfortable school furniture… (was) characteristic of progressive educational discourse during the first half of the 20th century’ (Burke and Cunningham, 2011: 538).

Few scholars have so far paid critical attention to the ways that designers of school buildings have incorporated into the design process notions of bodily movement. One exception is found in the work of Roy Kozlovsky who has examined how interpretations of movement in the primary school environment engaged post-war architects in England. Consideration of the significance of rhythmic movement shifted their metaphorical conceptualization of the eye of the pupil from a technical apparatus to an organic association as a living muscle ‘that requires its own cycle of concentration and relaxation’ (Kozlovsky, 2010: 707). In this paper, I will extend a focus on the sense of touch to embrace the attributes of reach and movement exposed by a close reading of Building Bulletins reporting on English primary school building design during the period 1949-72. The rationale for this is found in the discourses fueling the drivers of educational redesign in post-war education when ‘reach’ became associated with an idea of the child enabled to exercise powers of freedom and self-expression. I will demonstrate how the imagined exercise of touch, reach and movement evidences an understanding, shared among architects working for the Ministry of Education in the post-war government, of how the body of the school child mattered in the transformation of education towards the design of the modern school and the nurturing of the modern citizen (Stillman and Castle-Cleary, 1949). Through an analysis of the content of a series of Building Bulletins, published by the Ministry of Education (later Department of Education), I will show how, for architects, the imagined use, place and disposition of body parts in close (often touching) proximity to the material environment of school, informed their thinking and featured in their planning. Building Bulletins reported on the design of school buildings in general and on certain particular aspects, such as colour or furniture."



"Sensory contexts of touch, reach, and movement

So what, in conclusion, can we say about this scrutiny of the discourse around touch, reach and movement in the Building Bulletins published in the period 1949-72? First, the findings clearly demonstrate how close was the vocabulary of touch, motion and emotion shared by progressive educators and architects during these years. Feeling (touching) the material environment through an imaginary identification with a young child, was a strategy of design. The material — designed — environment of education was perceived as a key pedagogical force in an education which emphasized the role of the senses. This is well captured in the following statement by Alec Clegg, CEO for the West Riding of Yorkshire during these years (1945-74).
'Children learn mostly from that which is around them and from the use of the senses. These impressions so gained will depend a great deal on interests that will vary considerably. If children are interested they will listen more carefully, look more closely and touch more sensitively. With interest there is created the element of wonder, the most precious element of life' (Sir Alec Clegg, 1964).

Close observation of children's active engagement with the material environment they encountered through their skin, limbs and whole bodies was characteristic of educational and architectural discourses regarding the most appropriate contexts for teaching and learning at this time. Second, observable by its absence in the Building Bulletin's commentary on touch, reach and movement is the figure of the school-teacher, within a systematic approach to designing from the body of the child outwards. This sits easily with the progressive image of the school as discussed through visual evidence from iconic school environments in this period (Burke and Grosvenor, 2007). Finally, in examining the imagined settings for touch alongside notions of scale and reach in the context of the built environment, we are forced to address questions of comfort and discomfort, agency and non-agency. In this analysis, the sense of touch leaves its anchor of materiality and comes to appear essential to affording a sense of belonging, allied to a notion of rights to participate in an imagined democratic community."
catherineburke  1940s  1950s  1960s  1970s  schools  schooldesign  multisensory  education  children  learning  progressive  howwelearn  howwteach  teaching  pedagogy  environment  touch  reach  movement  motion  emotion  alecclegg  johnberger  furnitue  color  architecture  design  scale  bodies  body  furniture  christianschiller  materials  difference  accessibility 
june 2015 by robertogreco

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