MH+D Inside Out: Steve Blatt on How Architecture Can Transform Education

As a graduate student in the Yale School of Architecture, Steve Blatt admired the design of the structures on campus, including Paul Rudolph’s brutalist Yale Art and Architecture Building, and learned first-hand that design can influence an educational experience. Blatt explains to Maine Home+Design how natural light and social spaces can enrich students’ worlds.

Q. What’s one important lesson you took away from your education at Yale?

A. The architecture on the Yale campus was inspiring. We lived in that space, not just in the buildings, but in the spaces between them. The progression of going from one place to another just enchanted me. I thought about how when you see something, it changes as you approach it, and then, how as you enter a space, you wonder if the experience is exciting, humbling, or intimidating. That’s where I became very concerned with the effects of scale.

Q. You’ve designed several schools like Greely Middle School in Cumberland, East End Community School in Portland, and Pray Street Elementary School in Gardiner. What inspires you about designing educational buildings?

A. A lot of school kids from poor communities don’t have the opportunity to enjoy well-designed homes. In their schools, they can see what wonderful light, focused window views, and color can do to a building that you spend so much of your day in. An educational process should open your eyes and expose you to new ideas, but many schools are only accommodating. They are not in any way uplifting. They don’t spur curiosity.

Q. How do you improve the experiences of school children through architecture?

A. In some of the schools we’ve designed, we make a point of leaving parts of the structure exposed so that children can look up and see what a beam is. We also believe that the spaces in between the classrooms are very important, the eddies in the stream where you can be upset or homesick, talk to your best friend, or just think. Those spaces are different in size and scale, and even color.

Q. What were your own schools like?

A. I grew up in Auburn, and I have always felt that one of the schools I went to looked just like the Alamo. All schools, like that one, should be well-rooted to the ground and have some memorability.

Q. What is the purpose of architecture?

A. Architecture is meant to last. We are changing the face of the earth, so we must be very careful with what we place on its surfaces.

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