John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A team of Portuguese architects propose a lofty concept to fix America's troubled education system.
Here's an idea to tackle both America's poor education system and its childhood-obesity epidemic: Make students walk up 80 flights of stairs each day to get to their classrooms.
This could be the calf-straining reality of attending public school in New York City if a team of Portuguese architects gets their wish. The group began with the proper assumption that the U.S. school system is in need of a drastic fix of some sort. But rather than hiring better teachers or rejiggering standardized testing, they opted to challenge the system's very infrastructure. The result is what you see above: A bunch of schools perched throughout the Manhattan skyline like eagle nests, drawing eyes upward with flashy, schoolbus-yellow paintjobs.
The wild idea, which provides further evidence that designers really like piling unlikely objects on top of each other, recently won an Honorable Mention in the "Rooftops, Why Not?" competition sponsored by ContestA. The objective of this challenge was to imagine new uses for roofs, these "spaces on the way of desertification." While other architects focused on elevated amusement parks and insectoid arboretums, the team from Portugal took a more serious route. Here's how they describe it to DesignBoom:
for this competition, that proposed the discussion of ideas for the roofs of the world, new york was chosen as a study case for an experiment. known as usa’s ‘educational capital’, it seemed pertinent the provocation: ‘what if suddenly the education would become the highest (and most visible) value of a society? what if one day all the skyscrapers would have a school on the top?’
assuming the will to fix, or at least to discuss, a biased system, it is proposed to offer public schools in places that are usually closed to society. using the yellow color from the school buses and new yorker cabs, and choosing very simple and abstract volumes pierced occasionally by simple geometries, the boxes would seem like a game for children. visually and politically, the school would be the highest value.
Basically, it would be a powerful symbolic gesture that would not do much to address the current problems of U.S. schools. Other issues I can think of off the top of my head: Those Wall Street brokers and other skyscraper occupants are not going to take well to streams of noisy children flying up and down their elevators/stairwells all day. Unlatched or broken windows could lead to a high student attrition rate. Frequent lightning strikes during storms.
But hey, neat idea. Who wouldn't want to attend class in a schoolroom with a dang tree in it?