The writer and the architect aren't so different from each other when you consider each one as builders of an environment, and what better way to introduce that concept than to a class of high school students. After reading about Matteo Pericoli's "The Laboratory of Literary Architecture" course in The New York Times, English teacher George Mayo was inspired to teach it to his 10th grade class at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, MD.
Matteo Pericoli created and taught the workshop in the Scuola Holden creative writing school in Turin, Italy and then in the M.F.A. writing program at Columbia University's School of the Arts. Students picked a literary work they closely understood and then broke it down to its core elements, from which they based their architectural designs.
The goal was for students to avoid literal representations and instead design literary representations that symbolize "the essential ideas of the narrative structure in a spatial form," as described in Pericoli's course.
Modeling Pericoli's workshop, Mayo had his 10th graders put on their critical thinking caps and create structures inspired by J.D. Salinger's novel, "Catcher in the Rye" and its renowned angsty teenage protagonist Holden Caulfield. The project challenged students to figure out how to use space, materials, and basic architectural concepts to convey a part of the novel that stood out to them in their own perspective.
"My question to them throughout was: 'What are you taking away from this novel? What aspect of the novel are you relating to or find significant?'," Mayo explained through email. "Once they identified this, they had to think about turning that into a concrete tangible architectural model."
As students worked in groups to develop their ideas, they received guidance and support via Skype from Pericoli himself as well as a few Columbia graduate students who took his workshop. Two architecture grad students from the University of Maryland visited Mayo's English class and taught his students how to construct their models.
One could say the project had a happy ending for everyone, and Mayo hopes to repeat the project with different novels for future classes. Mayo described that his students were surprised with their final designs and that they enjoyed the process of conceptualizing and building. "No one expressly said they now want to be architects," he continued. "But we did agree that we all now look at architecture (and literature) in a new way."
For more about Matteo Pericoli's The Laboratory of Literary Architecture, click here.
Check out some students' projects in the gallery below. For more projects and their descriptions, click here.