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A Perception of Architecture and Urbanism: An Approach to Education in the Popular Classes

Mariza Weber Alves
Introduction by Randall Fielding

Review by Prakash Nair:

This is indeed a superb piece - both inspiring and thought-provoking. It reinforces my long-held belief that children experience architecture while adults observe it. This was an exercise that asked children to observe architecture - something that allowed them to change their perception of their built world and also understand it at a conscious level. For the adults too, this had to be a wonderful learning exercise. They saw what was always consciously understood as urban blight from the perspective of the children and, suddenly, the shapes and forms began to have meaning beyond the observable.

An absolutely essential experience for every student of urban architecture - what a great way to understand the built environment while at the same time engaging students in potentially life-changing learning experiences. I will go back to this often and I’m sure I will extract new meaning from it each time.

*The State of Urban Education
Statistics in the United States†

    * Eleven million American children (one out of every four) attend urban schools. 43% of urban school children are minority.
    * Most urban kids attend schools in which more than half of the students are poor and that are predominantly or completely minority.
    * Millions of urban children fail to meet even the minimum standards on national tests.
    * In the poorest school districts, up to two-thirds of students achieve below “basic” levels on national tests.
    * Urban schools are larger, have higher truancy, double the violence and less parental involvement than non-urban schools.
    * Of the 49 urban districts responding to an Education Week survey, 15 reported that it would take $500 million or more to restore their buildings to good condition. New York City estimates that over $15 billion is needed to restore its 1,200 school buildings to a “state of good repair.”

    † UEF School House Journal
    Journal 1, 12/98

Urban education has largely failed in the United States.* Only a small percentage of private schools, charter schools and alternative programs are successfully educating our children. Given the dismal state of affairs, we can be grateful for good ideas from overseas. Mariza Alves provides insights into urban education that are at once practical and poetic. Her story chronicles four years of experience with a group of children and teenagers who dwell in a shantytown called Morro do Preventorio, in Rio de Janeiro.

child“When I mentioned the word environment, they started to talk about “that thing with the ozone layer”, the killing of alligators etc.
But, for these children [shanty town residents], the relationship to the city and the constructed environment in which we live is very different. They experience the outside very intensely. Although it may inspire fear, it is outside that they find leisure, their chances of survival and learning.
Hopefully soon, the study of the environment will be part of the regular curriculum in a more systematic way.”

Mariza brought a sense of competence and community to the children of Morro do Preventorio, using the perception of architecture and ecology as a framework. She helps us understand how children at risk perceive their environment. Furthermore, she points the way to help them feel secure, to build relationships, and to become successful learners.

Urban Education, High Performance “Green” Schools and Service Learning are hot topics at this time. Mariza’s story provides key insights to all of these areas.

Randy Fielding, October 2002

Download the Presentation: A Perception of Architecture (6,587 KB PDF)

Mariza Weber Alves

March 15th, 2006

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