Why are there so many interviews on the A&E site?

For a while, I’ve been posting interviews here without writing anything about why these interviews are such an integral part of the A&E website.  So here’s my attempt at an explanation.

One of the reasons for creating this site was to have a good look at the intersection between architecture and education.  When I initially thought about this intersection, the words I’d have used to describe these ‘things in-between’ would probably have been ‘school design’ or even ‘school buildings and their surroundings.’  But I quickly came to realise that what interests me most of all are the people who find themselves in this gap between the two realms.  If A&E was a Venn diagram, then it might look something like this:

Venn diagram: A&E
Venn diagram: A&E

And those people – represented by the tiny matryoska dolls – are students, educators and architects. They may also be school site managers and caretakers, lunchtime supervisors, Building Bulletin writers and policy makers.  Just by beginning to make a wishlist of people I want to talk to, I’m already excluding far too many of them.

But by identifying an intersection between architecture and education, and then populating it, my hope is that the next step will be to start conversations and promote debate about the A&E intersection.  At the moment the interview pages on this site are simply an attempt to listen to their voices as clearly as I can, so even if they are not yet conversations, they’re a place where connections can be made as a starting point.

The format of the interview is simple: I ask the same, or at least very similar, questions beginning with each person’s own experiences of their first school, guiding them to think about its materiality and spatiality.  Sometimes a memory surfaces with an astonishing visceral horror or  while on other occasions, a memory is frustratingly hazy.  Layers of detail about schools then emerge, sometimes with a freshness that is surprising to the speaker, who often hasn’t engaged with those memories since they left the building behind.  These fragments are then gathered together here, not as an exercise in nostalgia, but to inform ideas about what school and school design is now and what it could be in the future.

We have chosen not to edit these written interview transcripts, except to remove the occasional ‘er’ and ‘um’.  Although this means that the interviews don’t have a Sunday supplement-styled fluency, the thoughts expressed flow freely. Once the original audio recordings are posted here too, the intonation of the voices will also add another dimension to these written reflections.

When I read quotations from interviews in the field that form part of academic journal articles, I often enjoy the discordance between the formality of the written language and the reported, often lively, colloquialisms of the participants.  I usually wish that these interview extracts were longer and that I could discover what the speaker had been asked that provoked their comment.  Here, I hope, is an opportunity to read lively thoughts and comments in full, in context and (reasonably) uninterrupted.

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2 thoughts on “Why are there so many interviews on the A&E site?”

  1. Thanks for explaining how you do your interviews and why (and I always appreciate a Venn diagram!). My only query is that if people talk about their first school, won’t that mean the discussion is centred on primary rather than secondary schools..?

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    1. You’re right, there is a bias towards primary education, from me, at least. Particularly as my own doctoral research centres on primary education and I come into contact with more primary school staff than secondary through that research. Quite a few of the interviews have taken place inside primary schools too. The counterbalance to that is that Adam, who shares responsibility for the site, is researching space in the context of secondary education. I’m also based at a film of architects who have an interest in both primary and secondary, so I hope the balance can be redressed in various ways. The first school idea is about digging down through those layers of memory to see what’s there, to see what ‘school’ represents in the mind of that person in their earliest encounter with it. Thank you for taking the time to comment and I will bear that in mind, I could certainly actively encourage more discussion of secondary design.

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