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Surfaces for Movement
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

Proposal Statement

A row of geometric blocks undulates along the side of Wallach Garden. Taking their cue from the classic wooden blocks standard in schools for centuries, these forms have been scaled up to the size of the body, tipped and stacked to provide surfaces for movement, rest, and study. Where the children’s blocks were made to be handled and arranged in infinite configurations, these larger forms engage the ever-changing configuration of the whole body. The built environment presents endless opportunities for embodied play. Indeed, the architectural landscape is largely built around human measurements and tendencies. Bodyscapes activates potential relationships between architecture and human form.

Referencing the improvisational realm of kindergarten and pre-K, the linear aspect of the blocks also calls up the familiar arrangement of desks in the secondary and post-secondary classroom. This orienting capacity of the line shifts our attention from Brattle Street into the playful geometry of the site. As one possible threshold among many, an archway in the row of blocks invites visitors to enter into the space of the garden – bending, crouching, and becoming more aware of their physical movements in the process. On the other side of this threshold, a field of poured rubber mats extends the invitation to play; variations in their size, shape, and arrangement implying various use of the space. The mats could be used to relax, stretch, study, have a picnic or hold a class.

Buildings and communities surrounding Wallach Garden have inspired significant aspects of our design. The Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) have played leading roles in the history of embodied education, elaborating the value of experiential learning in formal and informal settings internationally. In order to make the most of Bodyscapes as a dynamic space for learning, movement, and performance, we propose to engage connections between Radcliffe, HGSE, and the A.R.T. with interdisciplinary programming developed in collaboration with the Harvard Office for the Arts (OFA), the Harvard Dance Program, HGSE’s Arts in Education (AIE) Program, and the Movers, Shakers, and Other Art Makers (MSA) HGSE student group.

The natural environment is fundamental to our proposal. Embedding the project within the existing yard activates the tactile possibilities of the lawn, encouraging us to touch and move around on this organic surface. Our installation also reaches outside the boundaries of the site to strengthen and ground its argument; the natural colors and materials of the surrounding trees inform those of the blocks and mats. The rectangular blocks work in tandem with the rectangular stone benches lining the site, while the terra cotta color of the mats references the changing leaves characteristic of a New England fall. Of course, the built environment and its potential for physical engagement are equally relevant to our design. Cambridge building columns, windows, walls, and decorative elements find their basic shapes—their building blocks, so to speak—in the installation we propose.

Bodyscapes takes its cue from the physical and historical context of Wallach Garden, welcoming Harvard and Cambridge communities to interact with the site. Inspired by the history of progressive education and minimalist art and design, Bodyscapes activates perceptual, sensual, and kinesthetic awareness. The playful blocks and playground surfaces, together with a series of classes and events, awaken childhood memory, educational history, and personal and public imagination through embodied, self-directed play.

February 2014. Photographs, Photoshop, Rhino/Cad, Sketch up, 3Ds Max, VRay.

Radcliffe Yard

Public Art Competition Finalists