It’s July in Barcelona. School is out and university students have already sat their exams. It is very hot. A cool, shady spot is our most pressing desire. A scene from a film comes to mind, surely the only daytime scene in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”: under the shade of a reed overhead screen, in the middle of nowhere (or with the surrounding space concealed by the harsh summer light), Marcello Mastroianni sits at his typewriter chatting with the young Valeria Ciangottini. The shadow pattern of the reeds bathes the whole sequence, which is a conversation between a child and an adult.
Isabel de Villena School isn’t totally closed. A summer day-camp shares the space with a few workers doing maintenance tasks. The courtyard faces fully south and some half-obsolete structures lead you to believe that various attempts have been made to protect it from the sun. Summer courses have begun at the ETSAB.
We propose an Experimental Workshop: a combined activtiy for infant and primary students and architecture students, to design and create shade systems for school courtyards. Based on the “architectural need” of making the outdoor space at schools usable in summer, we proposed the university students develop systems to create shade and, therefore, a cooler space that could be executed in conjunction with the schoolchildren.
Agenda 21 Escolar and Consorci d’Educació de Barcelona found out about the pilot programme and were interested in expanding it to other schools in the city. The need for shade in school courtyards in summer, a problem to be resolved by technicians in the School Facilities department, turned into an educational project that could be developed by the schools themselves with participation from the schoolchildren.
The children visit the university. Dani Freixes, decked out with his “hat”, projects films made with shadow puppets. The ETSAB events hall had never seen such nonsense or heard such laughter! The area around the Coderch building quickly became an improvised sandpit.
In the university sessions, we took a deeper look “in the abstract” at the possibilities of the space set aside for shade: the plan of the shade is dynamic and changes throughout the day; the material used could add complexity to the shade and create a play of different flickering lights and sound could also be used to further the sensation of wellbeing we get from the shade. Above all, it is a workshop based on teamwork in which most of the group was aged between 3 and 9. There was a very wide variety of mental structures and physical capabilities and we had to try to make the most of the various virtues of each one to enrich the project.
The older kids went to Isabel de Villena school to see the location and speak with the children about how they wanted the shady area to be. And, above all, to discuss with them the real options for building the ideas they had quickly come up with in an improvised brainstorming session.
Over three days, we built the four projects we agreed on. The children surprised us with how quickly they understood and executed them, and with the artistry of the material they produced.
Finally, the Isabel de Villena courtyard is “night-time”, a “tree with leaves”, the “bottom of the sea” and full of “silhouettes” of their bodies projected on the floor and walls. Surely, the shade we created was more ephemeral than the workshop originally expected, but the experience was of creating a better space.