The Exp Summer Daily

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The Experimentory Blog

Our year-round blog has the most recent updates

Exp Summer Daily Blog

The blog becomes active each summer starting just before we're in session. Its a great place to see what our students are doing on a daily basis.

Day 5: Architecture + Culture, Where the Buildings Tell Stories

Jul 14, 2017 10:04:49 AM

At the Experimentory, we believe that Innovation happens at the intersections between disciplines, people, and ways of thinking about the world, which is why our course clusters are the heart of our program. Our projects-based clusters pair disciplines together in fresh and exciting ways, allowing students to learn by doing and to discover new passions. While our students are busy creating, coding, cutting, drawing, filming, and wiring things together, Media Manager Kayla Corcoran has put together a focus series on our three clusters to explore how the learning process unfolds at the Experimentory; first up - Architecture + Culture!

At the intersection of Main Street and Memorial Street in Deerfield stands the Wells-Thorn House; painted robin’s egg blue, the front portion of the house proudly announces to all passersby that its original owner was wealthy enough to buy such vibrant paint. But it’s not just the paint that tells us something about the home’s history, revealed Mr. Payne on today’s Architecture + Culture field trip down Main Street. “Count the number of windows you can on the front side of the house,” he instructed the students. “Seeing five windows in a row on the front of the house and two windows in a row on the side of the house is relatively common in this area,” he added, sharing more information with the students on how the home reflects a typical Georgian style, brought over from England by colonists to the New World.

Blossom raises her hand to ask Mr. Payne a question about the Wells-Thorn House on Main Street in Deerfield. 


Walking around with their sketchbooks and iPads, the students considered the ingenuity of the area’s earliest colonial settlers: Need some materials to build your home? Chop down the giant, straight oak trees right in front of you. Lacking a basic security system? And perhaps some central air conditioning? Look no further than moveable shutters, which simultaneously, when closed, keep out intruders and keep things cool by blocking the sun during warm summer months. Want to cook and keep your home warm during those New England winters? Try placing the fireplace in the middle of the house instead of on the side so that the heat can be used more efficiently.

What the students are learning, Oliver pointed out to me, is that “everything [the buildings] has a story behind it, and it’s pretty cool to see how architecture and culture can join together like that.”  He expanded, explaining: “Ms. Sherburne will tell us the history of the building and then Mr. Payne will explain all about the windows and the doors and why they built it like that.” He paused, with a smile, and said: “And they’re really, really good teachers. I mean, really good.”  

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Mr. Payne explains how the Wells-Thorn House "telescopes" backwards: most homes in Historic Deerfield have additions built on the back when the owners saved some money to continue building. Ms. Sherburne pauses with students in front of the John Williams Dormitory, which used to house the Reverend John Williams and his family. The door, known as the "Deerfield Door," is a replica of the original. 


While last year’s Structures for Society cluster took a more global approach, Ms. Sherburne explained that this year’s focus is more local: “We wanted to take advantage of all that the Pioneer Valley has to offer; there’s so much history here in Deerfield and in the surrounding area.” Mr. Payne, who has a penchant for architecture that’s reflective of its place in the world, agreed: “The goal is to consider how place plays a role in the way we shape the buildings we make our lives in, whether they’re homes or civic buildings, like post offices or churches.” What does this mean for the cluster this year? For starters, some exciting field trips to local buildings, museums, sights, restaurants, and farms, including the Deerfield Academy Greenhouse, which produces vegetables for consumption on campus (our students have already been enjoying the greens in the salad bar each day at lunch!).

Discovering the history of the place where they’ll be living for the next few weeks has been exciting for the students, most of whom come from places quite different than our historic village. Elena reflected, “It’s so different than what I expected. We’ve been so much more active, walking around to look at the buildings in town.” But she loves it, she said: “We get to see what we’re learning in a practical way. Going for walks around Deerfield has been great.” Other students echoed her sentiments; Maddalena commented: “Walking around and looking at the buildings has been my favorite part of class so far. Taking notes and drawing the different homes makes you look at all the traditions for each building.” Maddalena said this hands-on approach helps keep her more focused. “It’s interactive...when I’m focused, I enjoy the learning so much more.”

And the cluster is teaching the students more about the world that they live in. Maddalena said: “I’ve always liked learning about other cultures, but I had never really considered how architecture was a part of that.” For Jack, both of these concepts are relatively new ideas. So far, Jack said, he’s learned about “what a building should have and how it should reflect the place where it is.” He’s also been learning about “what a culture is, and there are multiple things that you can’t see right away that make up culture,” like religion or styles of communications. Such lessons are ones that transfer easily outside of the classroom at the Experimentory, where students are learning how to make friends with those different from themselves.

After touring the homes in the village, Guillermo and Charlotte begin working on their Deerfield home in SketchUp, a program that renders architectural design in 3D, realistic dimensions.


Having spent a few days considering the local architecture and history, students in the Architecture + Culture cluster are ready to begin designing their own historic Deerfield homes with a program called SketchUp, which allows architects to render 3D visuals of their buildings with realistic dimensions. “It’s quite fun to create your own home inspired by all of things you’ve seen walking around,” said Charlotte, who also added that her classmates give her inspiration. Tysean, who has returned to the Experimentory for a second year, is excited to try a new design for his house: “The door is going to be much fancier this year,” he laughed. And while Tysean noted that the homes he’s visited this year in Deerfield with the cluster have been different than those visited last year, one thing has remained the same: “This class is just open. If you have an important thought, you can just share it, and that’s what makes the teachers so great and the lessons so engaging.” Charlotte agreed, saying, “Your nose isn’t buried in a book the whole time. We explore.” Ethan gave a thumbs up: "I'm definitely glad I chose this class!"

To see more of the explorations happening in Architecture + Culture and in our other clusters, be sure to follow our daily blog, and look for updates and photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Flickr.

The Exp Summer Daily provides news and updates while we are in session in July and August. The rest of the year, check out the Experimentory Blog for posts feature our students, teachers, classes, values, goals, and plans for the coming year.