Raphael’s fresco “The School of Athens” offers a utopian vision of a free, open, informal, and common space for learning. It is an in-between space. Neither inside nor outside, not quite a room, but also not simply a space for circulation. It is monumental, but also generous, and almost casual. It is not a classroom, and yet we see scholars and students debating, teaching, and studying. Although we typically think of learning taking place in the classroom, educators and architects have recognized for thousands of years that learning also takes place in the space between; in the hallways, on the stairs, at the café, in the quad. Socrates taught in the Agora. Plato founded his Academy in the olive grove outside of Athens and often taught while walking. Medieval colleges were organized around a communal courtyard. 20th century universities are filled with informal learning spaces often associated with circulation, and today there is a particular fascination with designing staircases, or stepped seating spaces, as the main architectural feature of an academic commons.
The School of Athens exhibition at the Greek Pavilion considers these academic common spaces as architectural specimens; objectively identified, classified, and made legible for analysis, comparison, and debate. Specifically, the exhibition showcases physical models of fifty-six different academic common spaces from across history and around the world, both realized and unrealized. By no means canonical, complete, or definitive, this selection is simply meant to provide a diverse and representative sample of compelling projects.The fifty-six models on display are mounted on the end of vertical steel bars, elevated to waist height for easy viewing from all angles, and organized in a grid that fills the pavilion equally in all directions.
The pavilion is its own kind of learning “freespace.” By self-consciously adopting the architectural trope (or architectural cliché?) of the amphitheater, the space is constructed as a stepped landscape that enables individual study, small group informal conversation, and large group lectures and debates. The field of 3d printed models is displayed across this landscape, inviting visitors to move throughout the pavilion, and animate the models – almost as additional participants – during large lectures or events.