Thursday, September 24, 2009

Walls for Learning

Digging around the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs website a few days ago, I came across a "Percent for Art" project from 1994 by Allan and Ellen Wexler for Public School 340 in the Bronx. The simply titled Drawing P.S. 340 is a "112 foot (34 m) wall mural [that] presents various floor plans and detailed construction drawings based on the actual architectural plans for the school, ... elevation drawings of the hallway and variously scaled maps that situate the school in the community, city, and country. "

[Drawing P.S. 340 by Allan and Ellen Wexler | image source]

Further explanation indicates: "The artwork is intended to provide students with a schematic overview of the new school and an opportunity for architectural study. "

[Drawing P.S. 340 by Allan and Ellen Wexler | image source]

A few things come to mind seeing this mural. First, the hallway would be quite unremarkable without it. The design is otherwise a tile base, painted doors and frames, and a drop ceiling. Second, even though the mural is only 15 years old, it seems even more anachronistic, given that blueprints are no longer used by architects. Even when I worked in an architectural office in high school, making prints in the ammonia-filled backroom, the prints were bluelines (blue on white) not blueprints (white on blue).

Third and lastly, this makes me wonder how effective architectural drawings are in helping people -- children or adults -- understand space and construction. Does the drawing teach as much as, say, an actual cut-away or mock-up of a wall, something made from the actual materials of the school? Probably not, but a drawing is also a lot cheaper (the percent for art is only 1% of the construction budget after all) and easier to modify over time (I wonder if this installation is still in place). As much as I'm for educating people about architecture, space, wayfinding, construction, etc., questions of how that happens should always be at the fore.