On May 14th, 2018, we hosted our own Problem Project Expo. Made possible through funding and support from the Gallatin Student Resource Fund, the event blended academic inquiry with artistic expression and thoughtful design in a true interdisciplinary style. Our goal was to create an opportunity for NYU, Gallatin, and our broader NY community to have a public conversation on the importance of education reform in the modern era. To help lead us in this conversation, we invited a panel speakers including feminist and psychologist Carol Gilligan, Steinhardt Department Chairs James Fraser and Catherine Milne, and education entrepreneur Devanshi Garg.
Guest Speaker Panel
Thank you all for coming. This event was sponsored by a grant awarded through the Gallatin Student Resource Fund, a fund which was created to encourage events and programs that foster community at Gallatin.
This is important because at NYU we don’t have a campus. We are immersed in the city. This has its benefits, for sure, but there are also drawbacks. Space is incredibly important to building a strong sense of community. We call Washington Square Park our campus, and this is true in some respects, but we share this space with a wide array of strangers, and our buildings are largely disparate and disconnected. Because of this, we must work hard to create opportunities for connections to be made, both within the student body, and with our faculty and administration.
These past few months, we have made New Lab at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, our home. This space, formerly an assembly warehouse for ships during WWII, was created for startups and entrepreneurs, and focuses on hardware – tangible creations – over software. This is where we congregated, every Friday morning, to share our ideas, work on our renders, and assemble our model. This space was crucial to our designs, and the similarities are clear. This is the proposed Student Atrium in our school of the future, designed by Emily Gordin.
I have known many communities in my life. Some have been welcoming, others alienating, and I can share from personal experience that a strong sense of community is one of the most important factors in a child’s development. I was rejected from the private boarding school I attended halfway through my senior year, and it could have derailed my entire life. It didn’t. I was fortunate enough to have a public school that welcomed me with open arms, and helped me secure an internship and graduate on time.
That school, my local public school in Western Massachusetts, the school that I graduated from but never went to, is the school we used as the template for our designs. In fact, we are joined today by the school’s Superintendent Peter Dillon and Operations Director Steven Soule, who are hoping to gain inspiration for their own renovations, which they plan to begin soon. I truly can not thank them enough for the support they have offered me and this project.
I could speak volumes about community and Gallatin and the process of gathering over twenty undergraduate students to redesign a high school, which it turns out is not an easy endeavor, but before I invite members from our architectural team to present their designs, I want to say a few words about money and safety.
A Few Words on Money and Safety
Yes, our proposed renovations are expensive. No, we do not think they are unrealistic, but we do acknowledge they are a far reach in the current political paradigm which prioritizes battleships and stealth drones over school supplies and teacher pay. No, we do not think this is a copout. We must decide collectively where we want to invest our resources to strengthen our country and prepare for the future, and we think it is clear brains wins out over brawn in the long run. In our designs we have created opportunities for students and teachers to work together to provide value to their community, raise money for their school, and fund a portion of their programs, but public schools cannot exist without public funding. Our hope is that our designs inspire legislators to rethink their investments in our children's future.
Given recent events, we think it likewise important to address safety and security. The school we have redesigned currently keeps its doors closed, and its curtains drawn. There are access scanners at the front entrance, but only teachers and one student with a disability have keys, and the doors lock automatically behind you. This makes sense for security reasons, but creates an atmosphere that feels more like a prison than an inspiring place for learning. In our designs we chose to embrace the floor to ceiling windows that surround the school, and added a three hundred and sixty degree glass ring for full viewing of the fantastic surrounding landscape. We also cut out the middle section of the school between the gym and the auditorium, and added a lofted Student Atrium with revolving glass doors for free fluid flow from the front of the school to the back.
The school we have designed does not exist in a country which lacks adequate gun control laws, and prioritizes the safety of our children over our right to bear semi-automatic weapons. Instead of constraining our architectural designs and tailoring them to a weaponized country, we made the conscious decision to focus on designs that build community, give students agency in their learning, and cultivate a sense of belonging, which we hope would prevent students from building the resentment and contempt that fuels violent acts of revenge in the first place. When students feel they are being valued as individuals and have a meaningful role to play in their community, our belief is that they will focus on contributing to the collective, rather than seeking to destroy it.
Community is everything, and in the 21st century, when our attention is increasingly spent online funding large corporations with no regard to local communities, we believe reforming our schools to serve as empowering and inspiring community centers is a strong step towards a brighter future for all.