Two friends of mine, architects Alexandra Betancourt and Maitée Hernández started an amazing project about a year ago called Taller (D)Espacio. Located in Santurce, PR, they introduce youngsters to an impressive array of art, design and architectural experiences usually reserved for first year design studios at architecture schools. However, their students range from seven to sixteen years of age. Yes… Seven!
They asked me if I could spend a session with them as a guest instructor; I gladly accepted and agreed to be there yesterday morning. It’s crazy, but after 15 years experience teaching at college level this morning I had butterflies… This was my first time in about 20 years that I was asked to speak to grade schoolers and the first time the subject wasn’t basketball.
We went to Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan to sketch and teachers started by giving the exercise instructions to the group. The focus was on perspective sketching and spatial sequence; it’s amazing that the students closely pay attention to what they are told and even are already used to these “big words” that kind of freaked me out as a freshman at architecture school. I could bet that they are even understanding better these concepts than some college students.
It was funny that both teachers introduced me as the one who had taught them to draw perspectives and I’m not even sure I remember doing so. It must have been as a guest teaching assistant, or as the usual informal teaching done late nights at the studio. Anyway, it’s flattering that they see me and remember me as the one responsible for teaching them.
Even funnier was that I started by telling them that, whatever I taught the teachers was the exact opposite of what I was going to teach today. I noticed Alexandra’s eyes popping wide open, as she asked “learn to unlearn?”, a quote I really like. But it’s true… After spending so much time practicing and learning to plot the perfect perspective I have come to understand that these technical issues do not matter at all. What really matters is that the sketch communicates how we experience the spaces and conveys what caught our attention, what was important to us as observers. The beauty of sketching is that we get to represent the sense, energy and feeling of the space and, contrary to taking a picture, two individuals using the same drawing tools and the same paper will produce different results. So the sketch is unique and very personal.
I sketched a couple of views so they could see what I was talking about, assuming that what was important to me changed from drawing to drawing. I also invited them to sketch fast, loose and without fear. Wow, these kids didn’t disappoint me at all. The results were fabulous. Most of them sketched with charcoal on large format pads. I lent the most experienced of them my felt-tip pens and my waterbrush, as she had done the same exercise a couple of time before; when she tried them, a shy smile appeared and she put away her headphones without any of us saying a thing. I guess she was enjoying the new experience.
I think that what Alexandra and Maytée are accomplishing is absolutely wonderful, and even if none of the kids ends up studying architecture, the exposure and exploration of the design process will change the way they see things forever. I’ll keep supporting their effort as much as I can, and will enroll my son for their summer program this next July. Great job girls, keep it up!
Here are a couple of my sketches today: