Inspiring students with architecture

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Bas-relief sculptures of the cardinal points at the Christopher Columbus Family Academy in New Haven help teach directions, and give students a deeper sense of place.

What if schools didn’t just house educational activities, but actually inspired them?

Architect Barry Svigals designs both grade schools and college buildings, and unlike most architects, he incorporates sculpture and figurative work into his structures. Svigals says the combination of architecture and sculpture transforms buildings from simple vessels into reflections on who we are and why we’re here.

BarrySvigals.jpg“Figurative sculpture, in particular, has the power to engage people in an intimate relationship to their surroundings. It can bring to life the purpose and meaning of a building, enhancing its service to functional needs. We are on a quest for meaning – we seek a reflection of ourselves in everything. Now imagine if we found that meaning in our buildings” says Svigals.

Svigals is in town for the Society of College and University Planning’s annual international conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center, but much of his work can be found in educational buildings in his home state of Connecticut.

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A 950 pound bronze sculpture of St. Albert the Great serves as a pillar in the Albertus Magnus College while simultaneously celebrating the history and mission of the college.

Svigals says the history of figurative sculpture in architecture goes back to ancient times, and the two were disconnected only relatively recently – in the 1930s – when modernists moved away from art and ornamentation in their designs. And Svigals worries that, as a result, human beings are becoming more and more disconnected from their environment.

Today’s architecture encourages egocentrism, rather than community. Each building shouts to be the most important. Really the questions each institution should ask as they begin designing a building are “How can we participate?” and “What can we contribute?” Our meaning is determined by our relationship to the community and the world at large.

Svigals says the modern movement has left a legacy of buildings that are simply self-referential, with no civic or personal meaning. Svigals says such buildings are missed opportunities for “deep branding,” in other words, opportunities to speak to all who gaze upon them, telling them who you are and what you stand for.

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Sculptures of apostles adorn the pilasters of The Carroll School of Management at Boston College, reflecting the college’s Jesuit heritage.

Svigals says at a time when we are increasingly reminded of our deep connection to the world around us – through oils spills, earthquakes and hurricanes – it’s time that we re-engage with our communities and our heritage.

Paraphrasing Gil Scott-Heron, Svigals says “the revolution will not be seen on our TV, but it should be felt in our buildings.”

  • Ben Birnbaum

    I can surely see why your writers or editors would have assumed that sculptures affixed to a building at Catholic and Jesuit Boston College would be modeled on apostles, as your photo caption states. However, the heads on Fulton Hall, while treated to medieval trimmings, are in fact modeled on individuals who worked at Boston College during the mid 1990s, when Fulton (which dates to the late 1940s) was remodeled. Fortunately, this doesn’t harm your thesis, in that these sculptured heads are reflective of Boston College (and of sculptures of religious figures around the campus), telling us, as you put it, “who we are and what we stand for.”

    Ben Birnbaum

    Boston College

    Office of Marketing Communications