Building Blocks

by Annie Coombs

Last Friday, I attended the retirement party for a middle school teacher of mine, Stan Brimberg at the Bank Street School. He affected generations of students, which was demonstrated by the crowd that showed on Friday, with graduation dates going back to 1986. At the event, Stan told a story of a period in his life where he thought teaching might not be for him. It was the mid-eighties, and he had been teaching in a difficult public school in New York City. The prescribed curriculum was stifling and ineffective and he thought maybe it was time to do something else. He looked to alternative teaching techniques.

One day he went to a workshop and saw a video of two children playing  one a few years older than the other. The older child meticulously built an elaborate structure out of blocks while the younger one watched uninvited or unable to participate. When the older child was done, the younger one came over and knocked the whole thing down. This simple gesture served as an 'aha' moment for Stan. The lesson he took from the interaction was that the younger one destroyed the structure because he hadn’t built it and therefore felt no connection to it. Stan deduced from this encounter that he needed to give students the tools to answer their own questions rather than providing answers on how to do things.

The story resonated with me, because I realized that much of my philosophy on life and building came from the message in this story. It speaks to the behavior of people of all ages and the need for people to feel an attachment to the places they live or use if they’re going to enjoy them and maintain them. Attachment doesn’t come from being given something without choosing it. Rather it comes from making choices. Choices build bonds. Choices can be as small as picking a paint color to choosing where you live or how it is laid out, but all of these choices strengthen a person’s connection to a space.

  At Bank Street, one way they work with the kids to connect to their space is by allowing the students to paint murals in the stairwells.

At Bank Street, one way they work with the kids to connect to their space is by allowing the students to paint murals in the stairwells.

A core belief of ours at OIKOS, is the idea that people should have a hand – literally and/or figuratively – in the making of their space. This is why we push for community engagement in all phases of a public interest building project, as we believe it is at the core of making a more inclusive and engaged community comprised of happier and more connected individuals.