It takes a village to plan a city
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We, who live in the urban west, recognize two major players responsible for educating our children: some attribute educational responsibility to the institutional system – to which we pay a considerable amount of taxes and fees, and some say that “education starts from home“ .The familiar expression ״It takes a village to raise a child״, presents a third actor in the education process – the community.
The involvement of the entire community in the education of our children does not eliminate or prioritize any of the other actors, but presents the “arena” in which educational activity takes place, with an emphasis on its importance on the educational impact on our children. You need a “village” to educate a child, sounds equally strange and natural. Can the urban passerby be expected to be part of the educational system of my children? Is this not an invasion of privacy? “Who is he to tell me how to raise my children?” “Better not interfere in matters other than him,” are more common phrases in the city. The expression quoted above seeks, expects and even requires the occasional citizen to help me educate my children.
After all, our children are also part of a large community in the village, neighborhood or city. Our children are not always under parental supervision and we can not educate them full-time. In a sense we need the help of the community. But from which community can we expect help? Which community really shares the educational values we hold? Which community is not afflicted with interests and agendas? And in which community will we feel safe enough? Precisely at this point, the quoted phrase can easily reverse its meaning.
In “Spotlight” (2015), it was the Armenian lawyer who told the investigative journalist that “It takes a village for child abuse.” The film describes a quiet system of consistent, ongoing and embracing collaboration that enables the sexual abuse by priests of children from distressed neighborhoods. The “ Village “was the church and the mutual guarantee was negative and allowed for concealment, denial, exploitation and abuse of children.
The village is not a random concept; the village represents a social structure that values common values such as mutual responsibility, an atmosphere of “togetherness,” caring, and support for community members, perhaps even at the expense of privacy.
But the village becomes less and less relevant: more than 90% of the country and more than 50% of the world’s population – lives in cities. This figure will increase in the coming years in light of the growth and population density. Why should not the residents of the city think that a city is needed to educate a child?
Why does the city recognize its alienation? How did the city, the glory of human creation, become a multidimensional entity symbolizing, from the beginning of history, civilization and progress, into a threatening place? Is it necessary for the sake of a sense of security and mutual responsibility to return to live in small cities?
Charles Montgomery, a Canadian journalist, claims the exact opposite. For several years Montgomery studied the connection between our mood and our neighborhood and published his conclusions in “Happy City”. One of the main arguments in the book is that a sense of happiness from a residential environment is related to the quantity and quality of social connections. The city, he claims, has greater potential for social connections precisely because of the number of residents, so it may be an advantage. In other words, small cities are not the solution. So maybe, in order to create a feeling of security and mutual responsibility, the walls should be returned to the size of the cities, and like the cities of the past, we will put a gate at the entrance to the city so that we can supervise anyone who enters? Or will we strengthen the policing and detective system and place cameras on every street corner? Can we then say that we need a city in order to educate a child? Will there then be a sense of security and mutual transgressions in the city?
The city – as a complex and sophisticated human creation is planned for human needs.The great absurdity is that urban space is not usually able to provide us with an experience of mutual trust and confidence in raising our children.
What still exists in the village that provides the right atmosphere? A relatively small number of people – this is probably not the answer, perhaps the spaces between the houses do it? According to Montgomery, the surveys again show the opposite: “It’s sad, and ironic, because most people go to the suburbs just to find safe and warm communities.” Perhaps the answer lies in the shape of the houses and the way they are placed? Can there be something in the shape or placement that allows an experience?
For every person, rural or urban, it is clear that sitting around a round table produces a distinct experience of “together.” Organizing bodies around the round shape creates a geometric state in which the distance of the bodies and their angle toward the center will always be the same, this position produces an identity and the result is an “equal” effect and a “together” experience. In contrast, standing along a rectangular shape or sitting along a rectangular slab allows for a different and varied spatial organization (in the corner, in the middle, in the head). This spatial organization creates a hierarchy between position states. In this case close / far, central / margin, are more relevant concepts. Without a doubt, a spatial organization around a rectangular shape can be difficult when one wants to create a “together” experience. Spatial organization is one of the most distinct definitions of architecture. An interesting local architectural example for the organization of a living space, one of the guiding principles in its design was the mutual guarantee, can be seen in the manner in which Nahalal – the first workers’ moshav in Israel – was planned. The architect and city planner – Richard Kaufman, designed the moshav in the shape of a perfect circle. The members received a “slice of the circle” – an identical plot, and in the center – public institutions, education, an industrial complex and residential housing for teachers and artisans. Perhaps there is something naive about Kauffman’s choice of a circle as a formative form for the session plan, perhaps he chose this form because of its “character”, crossing boundaries and times, which produces the experience of “togetherness,” “unity,” and “identity.”
Historian Erwin Panofsky could have had another explanation. In his research, Panofsky pointed to the inner connection between scholastic thinking and the architecture of the Gothic cathedrals. His main argument is that there is a strong connection between culture and its architectural products. In his opinion, the phenomenon is more than just “the spirit of the time.” Culture, as Panofsky pointed out, is not just a common code, nor is it just a common repertoire of answers to common problems, “but rather an array of deeply embedded schemas early in life from which, like musical improvisation, infinite schemas can be produced.(2)
Kaufmann was educated and worked as an architect at the time and place where the most dramatic and moving processes in architecture took place. A year before his immigration to Israel, “in order to serve as chief architect of the Zionist enterprise in Palestine” (3), the Bauhaus school was established in Germany. First, the international style is based primarily on “games” of basic geometric shapes (circle, triangle, square). It would be natural for his planning approach and planning choices to derive directly from the culture he nursed. And like Moshav Nahalal, which aspired to start a new local history, the international style also wanted to start the history of architecture and for forty years managed to be the preferred style of architects, entrepreneurs and contractors around the world. Functional and universal ideas became an inalienable asset, and only in the 1960s, in the United States, did the style begin to be criticized for being alienated, stony, mechanistic, and ugly.
One must not err and argue that modern architects have given up aesthetics in favor of rationality, estrangement and functionality. Mies van der Rohe, who replaced Hans Meier in the school administration, also spoke of the formal quality and the aesthetic ‘readiness’. An anecdote told by one of his students describes his attitude toward architectural design: “If you meet a pair of twins,” said Miss, “equally intelligent and rich, both fertile, but one ugly and the other beautiful, which one would you marry?(5)
This statement contains the meaning, which is understood above, which exists in the aesthetic aspect. But in fact it contained dissonance: on the one hand, the Bauhaus architects did not even agree to speak about form per se, the form had no meaning in itself, but only in its functional context, and on the other hand the architectural product had aesthetic significance. It is important to remember that Bauhaus architects operated within a cultural context that aspired to give up the aesthetic dialogue for many obscene reasons. In fact, the deterioration of the aesthetic discussion began a few centuries earlier and prepared the ground for this kind of rebellion. In the opinion of Professor Ruth Lorand, beauty, which has been perceived for many centuries as a kind of divine truth, one of the three central concepts of human thought – “true, good and beautiful – has changed and becomes a subjective expression of sensory perception.”(7)
She argued that the discussion of aesthetics knew the first retreat in the seventeenth century under the influence of rationalism, and the second most important retreat was in the twentieth century under the influence of analytic philosophers. They undermined its importance to the point of total denial of the aesthetic issue as a whole. Leah Dovev’s claims are even more extreme – in her opinion questions about esthetic themselves became symptoms of false consciousness: “adherence to an ideology morally unacceptable, and misleading in terms of the correct understanding of art from the academic-research point of view” (4).
Although architecture is not a clear art because it is subject to program and user, it can not be denied that good architecture is judged also by its non-measurable, subjective beauty and values, and not only by its functioning. When Lara Logan, a 60-minute reporter from CBS TV, asked Sergio Pahredo, mayor of Medellin (Columbia), how he had managed to “turn” a violent and frightening city into a peaceful and prosperous place, he replied; That one of the ways was to choose the poorest district in the city, the most neglected, the most frightening place to place the most beautiful buildings and most designed in the city.
The understanding that there was a connection between forms and their position in space and the experience they produced, together with the understanding that architecture was composed of functional and aesthetic-emotional aspects, would lead to the preoccupation with these contents in the architectural discourse. It may be expected that the experiential and emotional issues will be an inseparable part of the architectural debate, but this is not the case. On the contrary, there is a conscious concession or at least a declared avoidance of questions related to experiential aspects (aesthetic or emotional). The concession is already in the training stages of the architects. In all the academic schools of architecture in Israel, the main topics discussed revolve around planning, rational, practical issues, measurable issues relating to planning procedures and applied aspects. So why is there no emotional aesthetic discussion in the schools of architecture?
Four professors – architects and educators at leading schools in Israel – responded to this question by architect Hillel Schocken, who is close to the functional approach that describes the architect as a problem solver and the architectural act as a proposal for solving a problem. In his opinion, in the architectural act there is no place for personal expression, the architectural act is not artistic. For him, aesthetics amounts to values of taste and smell, and in such a discussion it is impossible to decide and therefore there is no point in entering it. On the other hand, Professor Micha Levin referred mainly to the pedagogical aspects and argued that the lecturer architect felt on the ground less secure, because it is difficult to formulate aesthetic aspects of words, compared to rational considerations that are easier to explain. In general, Levine believes that schools today do not provide tools for designers to participate in the contemporary artistic and aesthetic dialogue. The architecture that surrounds our day-to-day is described as commercial with very small pretensions and what you see today in architecture is mainly the desire to satisfy the customer with the help of effects and gadgets. According to architect Yael Moriah, architecture is more a matter of organization and editing. She is careful not to use the term “beautiful” or “aesthetic” and thinks that the phrase “true” and “accurate” is not only a functional matter and also contains the aesthetic issue. On the question of why there is no discussion of aesthetic and emotional issues in the schools of architecture, architect Zvi Efrat answered: In his opinion there is no doubt that architecture is art, combining art but also craft. And there is no doubt that architecture deals with aesthetics, nurtures and nurtures it. But in the absence of a system of clear and agreed proportions, the aesthetic must be sought every time anew. The aesthetic is very elusive, you can not teachit and talk about it simply. Efrat claims that talking about the aesthetic will always be in the subtext, although there is always the danger that subtext will not be understood by some people, for better or for worse there is a certain percentage of students who finish their studies and will not understand anything. “Go up to the mountain and come down from the mountain and see nothing” (1).
In summary: The built-in connection between culture, language and discussion – which removes aesthetically-emotional aspects from the architectural product – leads me to an inevitable conclusion; The urban space, planned, surrounding us is essentially a space lacking something. Architects who are unable, do not want or do not know how to speak about aesthetic, emotional and experiential aspects, are missing these aspects.
It is clear to us that shapes in space create an experience, and positive experiences in residential environments may create safe urban space and perhaps even joy for us and our children. Why, then, are the architects responsible for urban planning not referring to aspects of subjects as part of their training? Is not there voluntary blindness here?
In the introduction to the book by Prof. Anat Adamati, “The Clothes of the New Bankers,” quoted by Margaret Frennan in her book Blind Blindness: “We turn a blind eye to feeling safe, avoiding conflict, reducing anxiety and protecting our reputation.” Is it possible that this is also the reason why the architects do not raise aesthetic, emotional and experiential issues in their reference to the architectural object in the architect’s education system and then in their professional functioning? Is it possible that there is also a negative mutual guarantee here that necessarily leads to an essentially lacking space? The answer to why we do not say that you need a city to educate a child is undoubtedly in the experience that the city provides. But how to generate positive experiences in an urban setting? Is not that something to tune in to? Is it not self-evident that architects have to ask themselves subjective or aesthetic questions, despite the fact that the discussion of these subjects will be unscientific, impractical, immediate, and perhaps even derisive?
for further reading:
- Elbaz, A (2014). The aesthetic discussion in the field of design and architecture. Master’s thesis, History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University.
- Algazi, G. (2002). “Learning the Nature of the Study: On the Design of the Habitus in Bourdieu’s Work”, and Israeli Geology, D (2), 410-401
- Epstein-Flush, M., Levin, M. (2016) Richard Kaufman and the Zionist project. Hakibbutz Hameuhad Publishing House
- Dovev, L. (2005). “Warning sign now.” Herbert Marcuse, The aesthetic dimension – persistence of art (translation and editing: Leah Dovev and Zvi Tauber). Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad
- Whitford, P. (2012). Bauhaus (translated by Tammy Eilon-Ortal). Tel Aviv: Resling.
- Venturi R., Scott Brown, D. and Eisenauer S. (2008). Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of the Architectural Form (translation: Or Alexandrovich). Tel Aviv: Babylon.
- Roland, R. (2007). Beauty in the philosophical mirror. Haifa: University of Haifa.
Montgomery, C. (2013). “ Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design“.Farrar, Straus and Giroux