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  • Writer's pictureElliot Washor

Elliot Washor's TGIF 9.1.2023

“Are you with me now?” AJ Ryder

What we see and what is there?

by Gregory J. Gbur

by Daniel Jütte

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber, and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” Ralph Ellison The Invisible Man*

A few weeks ago, in the New York Review of Books, James Gleick reviewed two new books whose make- up are the obverse of one another. They are on the topics of invisibility and transparency. These books take us through a history of both. They make obvious how the things we make influences our thoughts on invisibility and transparency.

One of many paradoxes and confusions about invisibility and transparency is that like air, they can be both at the same time. Invisibility can be perfect blackness or perfect transparency. Transparency makes visible what is otherwise hidden.

We shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us.

Although these reviews don’t directly discuss formal education, what James Gleick writes about gets my wheels turning about what we do around educating our children. For example, our world seems to be moving toward more transparency but is this a magician’s trick, a slight of hand. Everyone wants transparency, right? Well not exactly. At least not me. Here’s one example, why. When we built The Met, I spent lots of time researching facilities.

Historically, transparency has major roots in the prison system. The panopticon facility - a prison - was designed to keep people under 24-hour surveillance where guards could see and not be seen. Just walk into any school and you can see this panopticon philosophy in practice. Yes, the same people who build prisons also build schools and in many cases for the same reason.

Glass buildings


Meta Menlo Park and Meta Kings Crossing


Panopticon

As materials go, glass is one of the original and ultimate transparencies, or is it? Meta’s headquarters, a glass building designed by Frank Gehry in Menlo Park, California is almost entirely transparent. The company boasts: “One can see through it from one end to the other.” At the center is Mark Zuckerberg’s office encased in bulletproof glass. In his book, Jütte wants us to see that “glass architecture, along with the dream of a transparent society, has “a nightmarish side”—that it is “an architecture of power.” It tends toward homogeneity and control. To see something is the first step toward subjugating it. “Tightly sealed windows keep the city’s smells at bay,” he writes, “and the development of soundproof glass has turned windows into highly effective barriers against the exterior soundscape.” A glass wall is still a wall.”


Proponents of social media exclaim that a transparent society will replace stealth and secrecy with openness and accountability. Hmm? Doesn’t that mean that someone is always watching? Is this the end of invisibility? These are issues for young and old alike whether in or outside of school. Buyer beware!



The Met

When we designed the Met, I used Frederick Olmsted’s design principles of Prospect, Mystery, and Refuge. These spaces allow for settings where you can choose to experience transparency and/or invisibility. You make the choice. This is the appeal of well-designed parks. Isn’t there some irony here that Meta is in Menlo Park?

This past week, I was at The Met doing a book talk for the purpose of seeing what New Ways, New Forms and New Measures were emerging at The Met that we all could muddle through and learn from. One example came from Nancy Diaz where we will use the B-Unbound Center at the Met to give credit to students in the 3-5 slot beyond the school day with the staff at extended day serving as advisors. Another piece of this work is to have students explore their interests during this time slot one day and then have their mentors get paid to come back to the Met the next time the group meets where develop practical skills in the building. This is a great iteration for B-U. We are going to continue these talks throughout the year.

“The best musicians know their music isn’t about ‘schools’ at all. There’s only one school, the school of, “Can you play?”

Our meetings with ASU continues around IBPLC. How does something so easy get so hard? There are real reasons, but most are not very good.

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*Years before Ralph Ellison wrote the Invisible Man; Richard Wright wrote The Man Who Lived Underground. Wright’s book preceded Ellison’s in pointing out another way invisibility is the ultimate alienation. FYI, Richard Wright’s book remained unpublished (invisible) until about a year ago. It’s a great read and is just as pertinent today as when it was written.

Be well!

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