The architectural historian in me is fascinated by the threads of science, theory, and symbolism that go into designing and building schools. Like most preservationists, I am a strong believer that the power of place plays a central role in shaping our experiences, attitudes, and values. The tangible aspects of a school’s ‘power of place’ include its architectural style, materials, dimensions, and floor plan. Taken together, these character-defining features often reflect a community’s wealth, prominence, and aspirations for their children. In Philadelphia, schools from the mid-19th century to pre-World War II period fit into this category, regardless of their location in large or small, rich or poor neighborhoods. After World War II, the character of many of Philadelphia’s public schools shifted, and the school buildings communicate a rigid, institutional personality that is markedly different from the schools only a few decades older. Continue reading
No, this isn’t a review of Spike Lee’s 1988 movie. I’m referring to my state of mind when I think about all of the work I’ve done with public schools in Philadelphia over the past few months.
As you may remember from this post, I joined BHP in July and my first assignment was to complete the survey component of a larger project to document Philadelphia elementary and secondary public schools of all types, styles, and dates. I had a good start on the survey work thanks to the headway my predecessor made in 2013 by assembling lists and survey maps, which are organized by zip code. My school daze started when I realized that there were about 300 public schools that qualified for this reconnaissance-level survey. And, even more intimidating, that 205 still needed to be surveyed before school started on September 8th! Continue reading