Lane Tech, the mammoth high school on Chicago’s Northwest Side, is a presence in the city. Although the school’s 4500 plus student body and iconic façade complete with 6-story clock tower dominate its fame, the unique experience the school offers certainly plays a big role in the school’s legacy. Part of this is of course the massive course offerings available. In many ways, it is more collegiate than secondary and more one of a kind than any of the city’s other major high schools. The recent announcement that Lane Tech will be ending its architecture curriculum came as shocking and disappointing news. For many, the curriculum was a life changing experience that pushed them into their future professions and for others it was an endearing carry-over from the school’s days as a tech hub. Either way it is a loss for the school, CPS, and to an extent the city as well. It is a curriculum change that carries incredible symbolism and deserves the attention it is getting.
The current Lane Tech principle, Christopher Dignam, said in a statement that the program is being cut because of low attendance, the retirement of a teacher, and competition from other elective and AP courses. Indeed, the school is offering a dizzying array of courses and from a notice on the principle’s page they’re aimed at not just pushing, but shoving students into the 21st century with abandon. More power to them. Perhaps this is what helped push architecture into the realm of school history. It is impossible to claim the school isn’t being innovative or working hard to make the most of its resources or advance education in the city, however it is disappointing that the school didn’t work to creatively retain architecture as part of its curriculum.
As Krisann Rehbein points out in another blog post on the topic, the loss of architecture means fewer opportunities for students to explore different mediums of design and construction. Although the school is providing students with numerous alternatives I think the point to take home from this is that now there is one less medium, one less option to explore. It is great that students can work in 3D printing, robotics, and digital photography at Lane Tech, but for students who become inspired by the building itself or the great views of the city’s skyline afforded by the school’s location there is no outlet. The school’s diversity become ever so slightly less impressive.
Rehbein points out too how more and more schools dropped architecture as an academic option over time. A field that needs diversity got it in the student body of city schools like Lane Tech, where not only is there a wealth of academic, but also human diversity. Again, that is lost and at what cost? There seems to be a push for more and more science and technology schools every day, which is great, but this is at a loss for design and aesthetics, which we all know can inspire and ignite a fire in our souls. Engaged and driven students will no longer get an opportunity to explore the field and fall in love. A classmate of mine, Fariha Wajid, was probably one of the smartest people I knew in school. She was part of the architecture curriculum and points out in a blog post she wrote how the passion she got for the field at Lane Tech helped drive her to architecture. It is those experiences, the little funny quirks of life that lead us to our passions that get lost.
Most importantly though is the failure to remember that this is an important field. Architecture is in my opinion an oft overlooked profession that deserves more credit. There is no other form of visual expression that is more public and more integrated into our lives than architecture. Quite literally we live our lives in and around architecture. Chicagoans are lucky to exist in the presence of some of the greatest works of modern design and thought and it seems only appropriate that one of the gems of the city’s school system still maintain a program that introduces young people to the field. It is also the field where science, technology, and art all met in harmony. This is so valuable in fields that are often so distant. The future needs smart architects who will design thoughtfully in a way that is economically, sustainable, but also aesthetically pleasing and hopefully uplifting too. Lane was unique in that it offered students the chance to start young. It also offered students who might not go into architecture the chance to better appreciate the worth of our built heritage. That too is lost.
Sadly it is in loss that we often are reminded of the importance or value of things. For a lot of Lane’s hundreds… thousands of students architecture may mean nothing. But for some it was an important academic opportunity to discover something they could be passionate about. For others taking it merely as an elective it was a way to become aware of architecture’s role in society and perhaps become more engaged citizens through this medium. Citizens who care about cityscapes and the built world. For others it is a new perspective on design and a means to explore the diversity of expressive mediums. Perhaps what Lane offered was like a drop in a bucket, but drops collect over time.
Removing architecture from the curriculum of a school known for having this as a key component of its academic choices is disappointing because it gives students less diversity of choice and experience, but it is also disappointing because of what it says about societal perceptions of architecture: it is unimportant and plays less value in our lives than other topics. Sadly we must now bid farewell to architecture at Lane Tech. Hopefully, the impression it left on students while available lives on for many years to come.