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Can you throw the ball over the fence please?

Caption: High schools courtyards.

Cristi Borcan

The interaction contained in the title question, probably the most com-mon type of relationship between students and neighbors around a school, best spatially describes the close vicinity between most schools in central Bucharest and the urban fabric in which they were built.

Part of the modernization program of the Romanian society starting with the second half of the 19th century, education also involved the construc-tion of an infrastructure of schools and high schools in the new state capital. A series of imposing buildings begin to be built in important intersections and on the main boulevards in Bucharest (Lascu, 2011), the architectural program be-ing used as part of the strategy to straighten the medieval urban fabric. Usually located on the street and offering to the public space wide, rhythmic, decorated and symmetrical facades, the schools and high schools built during this peri-od still stand out today in the geography of Bucharest. The image towards the street, however, contrasts with what is happening in the backyards. As a result of overlapping the representative location and the pre-modern fabric of the city, the schoolyards have irregular, rugged, crooked, twisted shapes, accentuated by successive extensions, demolitions, nationalizations and retrocessions. Build-ings and courtyards are thus two different types of spaces, one being a “modern space”, pragmatic and separating the various heterogeneous elements (Petcou and Petrescu, 2007: 324), and the other being an unscheduled, free, open and informal space. The building-schoolyard spatial duality is doubled by the type of knowledge mediated by the two spatial typologies. Classroom education involves a vertical, hierarchical and unidirectional relationship of knowledge transfer from teacher to students, a transfer spatialized even by the interior lay-out of the furniture, with a teacher in front, often even on a small pedestal, and children the other side, in benches lined up in rows at equal distances. The schoolyard turns this transfer to 90 degrees and multiplies the horizontal di-rections of knowledge transfer among children, through experimentation, in-teraction, play, conflict and by establishing their own rules depending on the situation, place and group of the children they belong to or interact with. The schoolyard is the place of active and direct knowledge transfer between children and between children and the environment. The schoolyard is a space for free use: running, pushing, paying football and different games, whispering, gossip-ing, phone talking, smoking. The schoolyard is a collective and collaborative space, unlike the classroom which is a space of individuality and competition. The schoolyards, more than buildings, function as the “third educator” in the sense used by Loris Malaguzzi (Gandini, 1993).

The high schools courtyards studied within the third year project of the studio are characteristic for central Bucharest: closed with high fences and as opaque as possible, guarded by bodyguards, with concrete surfaces, without furniture, used as parking for teachers, with green spaces forbidden to children, with modified sports fields to fit the space, crooked, narrow and overlapping, and with many rules “not allowed”. However, due to the configuration result-ing from the typical morphology of Bucharest, the schoolyards are also spaces that stimulate children’s imagination and invite inventive, informal, contextual, different and unique practices and uses. In the absence of “maidans” (Tudora, 2010) that have shaped whole generations of children, schoolyards are perhaps the last spaces of situated knowledges (Haraway, 1988). After all, what other way to learn about the community is better than playing football at the make-shift gates painted on the blind walls surrounding the schoolyard and the dia-logues through the fence with the neighbors to recover the ball.

GANDINI, Lella, “Fundamentals of the Reggio Emilia Approach to early childhood education”, Young Chil-dren, Vol. 49, N0. 1, 1993, pp. 4–8.
HARAWAY, Donna, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”, Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, N0. 3, 1988, pp. 575-599.
LASCU, Nicolae, Bulevardele Bucureștene până la Primul Război Mondial [Bucharest’s Boulevards before World War One], Simetria, Bucharest, 2011.
PETCOU, Constantin and Doina PETRESCU, „Acting Space: Transversal notes, on-the-ground observations and concrete questions for us all”, Urban Act: A handbook for alternative practices, edited by atelier d’archi-tecture autogérée, aaa-peprav, Paris, 2007, pp. 319-328.
TUDORA, Ioana, “Maidan - natural and cultural heritage”, ACUM. Public space and social reintegration of the artistic and architectural project, coord.: Ana Maria Zahariade, Anca Oroveanu, Mihaela Criticos and Gabriel Panasiu, “Ion Mincu” University Publishing House, Bucharest, 2010.

Cristi Borcan is a Bucharest based architect, a teaching assistant at the UAUIM Archi-tecture Faculty in Bucharest and co-author of civic, community, educational and cul-tural projects. His research is currently focused on collective modes of producing social spaces and spatial practices of commoning. He is a co-founder, together with Alex Ax-inte, of studioBASAR, an architectural studio and a public space practice that operates between practice-based research, participatory action research, community activation, co-production and co-design, urban design, live education and civic pedagogy.

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