Day School Students Become Architectural Historians
In the spring of 2012, Kadimah middle schoolers were treated to a tour of the Darwin Martin House, a landmark designed by the preeminent American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Built between 1903 and 1905 for a wealthy Buffalo businessman, this house is considered by Wright scholars to be one of his finest and has been extensively renovated in recent years. The visit was sponsored by a Kadimah parent who is a Martin House donor.
The students demonstrated an extremely keen interest in the house. Their curiosity was aroused: Who was Mr. Martin? Did Mr. Wright design other houses like this? When will the restoration be complete?
Their interest did not fade once the tour was over. Delighted by this enthusiastic response, the Martin House education volunteers Cynthia Silverstein and Kadimah’s middle-school science teacher Anna Martinick created a new experience for these would-be architectural historians. Students who were trained by Martin House education docents gave a one-time tour to their family and friends. The opportunity allowed students to share their knowledge, work on their public speaking skills and gain a new appreciation of their city.
Much was accomplished by this collaboration. The Kadimah students began to appreciate their regional heritage; their parents saw just how much their children were capable of, and the Martin House found the next generation of stakeholders. This student’s response was typical:
After the tour, I started to really think about the house and I realized how much history there is in this story and how important the Darwin Martin house is. I hope other people understand how much I love the culture and history of the house. I definitely want to come back and be a junior docent again.
The Kadimah students paved the way for other schools to participate in this unique and challenging Martin House program.
But the story does not end here. In 2014 Kadimah was approached by the Darwin Martin coordinator to partner with them on an expansion of the program. Students were introduced to the history at the time that the Darwin Martin House was being built. Michael Wohl, a docent and history teacher, took the kids on a journey, expanding their knowledge about the city of Buffalo. Penny Silverman taught the students about stained glass art, and students explored the I-beam construction of the Martin House. They created their own stained glass windows, which went on display at the Darwin Martin Great Batch pavilion. In science, students built balsa wood bridges to study forces. History, art, science and math were integrated, and the students wrote about their experience—in Hebrew!
Kadimah students showcased their expanded understanding of the history and architecture by leading another tour of the house.
This year, Anna Martinick and Kadimah students are continuing the journey with the exploration of restoration and reuse of beautiful structures in the city of Buffalo. Students were introduced to the notion of adaptive reuse; they toured Buffalo’s Grain Elevators and explored new uses for them by building architectural models. On another trip, they visited the Richardson-Olmsted Complex, another site designed by Wright, and studied the treatment of mental illness at the turn of the century. Students learned about the architectural, environmental, and social aspects of the complex’s past, present, and future.
This project provides an outstanding example of the benefits that day schools can reap from ongoing collaboration with cultural resources in their local communities.