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Learning to Live in the City

About five hundred schoolchildren in Tel Aviv take part in a new multidisciplinary program that challenges conventional teaching methods. In January they visited the Liebling House.

During the month of January, about five hundred fourth-grade students visited Liebling House on 29 Idelson Street. During their visit, they took an independent tour of the place and participated in a workshop where they focused on their feelings and thoughts by staying in an empty room. In addition, the children also attended a workshop, in which they created patterns for Terrazzo tiles, characteristic of the International Style. Later that day, the children watched video artworks that explore the connection between a building and a home and the human body, and learned about various elements in the building by looking at photographs and locating them on the architectural plan.

The visit to Liebling House is a part of "Living in the City" – a unique multidisciplinary program launched this year in fourth grades of Gretz, Gabrieli, Balfour, Tel Nordau, and HaYovel elementary schools in Tel Aviv. The program takes place in collaboration with the Education Administration of Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, the schools, and White City Center. We met with the program's director, architect and curator Eran Eizenhamer, to talk about the program.

What do the kids learn in “Living in the City”?

"The city is our living space, and so, it also serves us as a space for learning. While the modern city has evolved throughout the years, there was no corresponding educational framework that addressed what it means to live in the city and trained us for living in it. In the past, people had to learn basic skills for living in nature, like hunting, gathering, etc. Today we need to learn how to live in an urban environment and understand it. The curriculum we created focuses on aesthetics. But not in the sense of beautiful/not beautiful, but rather aesthetics that answers the question of how we use our senses and experience the space. In one word, our emphasis in the program is on observation.”

What do the children observe in the program and how?

"We start with the most familiar and meaningful space for the children: the room and the private house, and their equivalent – the classroom and school, and from there we move to the street, the neighborhood, and the city. From private spaces to public spaces. The links between them are not schematic and not necessarily linear. It’s not like today we will learn about the private home and tomorrow about the street. This movement from small to large and back forms the basis of our educational approach. While we do come from the field of architecture and its language, we expand and refine it through art and performance, and additional tools such as writing, drawing, and design. I see architecture as the relationship between form and content, between form and its users. That is, architecture is not just the way buildings are designed, but also the way we use these buildings. Learning takes place through use, meaning, from life.”

Who leads the lessons?

“Our team consists of instructors that all have background in art and design, in the broad context, and engage in art on a daily basis.

Before we start teaching, we are a learning team. In a program such as this, there’s a need for different views and perspectives in order to find the right way to learn a particular concept or subject, and to develop a clear language for a dialogue about space. We also have to teach one another specific knowledge and tools from each one’s areas of expertise."

How does the instructors’ artistic background come into play?

“The instructors draw on their individual artistic practice, and are also involved in the development of the program’s contents and teaching methods. They do not serve as a mouthpiece that transmits demarcated and hermetic knowledge, but rather express themselves through the curriculum. This is not about imparting knowledge that the students have to absorb without questions. The learning is experience-based and takes place through a dialogue with the instructors. The responsibility for learning is handed to the children, to the pupils.”

How is the program connected to Tel Aviv?

“The program focuses on Tel Aviv, the White City, and the International Style. Part of the program is based on field trips, created especially for Tel Aviv. And not only specifically for the city, but specifically for every place in it. For each school, we created a program of field trips that take place in its immediate environment. For example, we have a field trip called Site Specific, in which Balfour School students will explore Habima Square, and students from Tel Nordau will walk to the Young Mizrahi Women’s House on Dov Hoz Street. And both will learn completely different things.

The walk to these places is also meaningful and relevant to the students. As far as we are concerned, a ‘field trip' is also an event that is based on observation, rather than on imparting knowledge. The field trip starts in the classroom, continues along the hallway, in the yard. Then there are walks in which we stop to look at seemingly banal things – from a tree in bloom to a misshapen fence.”

And other than field trips?

"In addition to the field trips, there are also classroom classes, including practical workshops that are also rooted in the notion of ‘learning by doing.’ So far, for example, the students participated in a four-lesson workshop that focused on sewing a pencil case and making measuring tools such as tape measures and compasses. The next workshop will focus on lighting and the relationship between the sun as a source of natural light and energy systems that produce artificial light, and the light we have in our room and the meaning of light in our lives.”

Is this plan applicable only in Tel Aviv?

"No, we are operating in Tel Aviv and therefore we devote it to Tel Aviv, but there is no reason why the plan should not work in other cities."

What are your plans for the future?

“We wish to expand the program to additional age groups and other neighborhoods in the city. The White City Center will be inaugurated in 2019, and with it we will open an informal program of workshops and courses in the fields of architecture, art, and design, for children, adults, and professionals.


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