The School Under the Oak Tree

Richard Ingersoll 

As someone who makes a living from teaching, I occasionally have the apprehension, while watching my students fiddling with their laptops and cell phones during my lectures, that soon my role will be downsized by digital technologies. Most experts in education agree, however, that while computers provide extremely efficient tools for pedagogical tasks, nothing will replace the inspirational function of dialogue, the direct confrontation between teacher and pupil, which – teleconferencing aside – relies on spaces designed by architects. Louis I. Kahn liked to fantasize on the simple beauty of the primordial educational moment when elders taught the young under the spreading branches of an oak tree. As educational institutions evolved, however, they acquired more solid structures, of which Kahn delivered some particularly heavy examples, from the Exeter Library and Bryn Mawr dormitories to the Salk Institute and the Ahmedabad Institute of Management. I mention Kahn because of all modern architects he seems to have had the greatest passion for educational buildings and offers a point of departure for assessing contemporary school buildings...

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