Arla Saven, a graduate student in Architecture, decided to study Aldo Van Eyck’s Amsterdam Orphanage for her history and theory project. When she discovered that he also designed playgrounds, an Internet search led her to Architecture that Affords Play, an obscure 1981 MIT thesis written by yours truly. Arla got in touch with me just about the time I was rounding the corner at San Diego on my current playscapade. In Houston, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet perhaps the only person who’s read my thesis in this millennium.
Arla’s interest in play that relates to both children and adults springs from her family. “My father works with autistic adults. He has to apply tests created for children because all autism work starts with children.” Arla is well equipped to tackle the tricky subject of play. She wrote her paper about Van Eyck and play on a beach in Mexico, turned it in a week late, and still got a 96.
Arla and I sat on the lawn in front of The Pavilion, Rice’s latest architectural gem, on a sunny February morning. “I like to sit on this lawn, but I don’t like to go inside The Pavilion. It’s a place to be seen; a place with overpriced food where the President and other bigwigs press donors for money.”
Arla took a backdoor route to studying architecture. “I studied religion in college. I went to a baby-sitting interview in New York City and wound up showing the people my portfolio. They hired me to do design work instead.” After a few years Arla decided to study architecture full time. As she gave a nod for the well-dressed people inside the glass pavilion Arla acknowledged, “Rice gave me a full scholarship. Thank you oil and gas money.”
We discussed her current studio project. “Every student has one studio based on real project. We’re working on an 800 unit residential development, 75% one bedroom, on a seventeen-acre site. There are many constraints on density, parking, and budget.” Arla would like to avoid designing a high rise, but options are limited. “I want to be creative, but it’s hard.”
Arla lives off campus in a largely African-American part of town. “Houston is very segregated. It’s expanding at a rapid rate. When you come here, you go to your community. You stay in the area where you’re assimilated.” She has grown to like the city quite a bit. “Houston is burgeoning. It’s very diverse.” She’d like to remain at Rice longer. “ It’s hard for me to view what I do as a job. I want it to last longer. I’m still trying the buffet.”
I asked Arla about the city’s penchant for tearing down and building new rather then renovating. Her response revealed Arla’s religious studies. “Creation is pure, god-like. Re-creation is tainted, as if touched by sin.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“My tomorrow: I’m going to watch part of a Spanish novella I really like. I will be one day closer to the beach; I’m going to Costa Rica in a couple of weeks.
“Society’s tomorrow: we will all live in hammocks on the beach; we will all grow vegetables; we will all ride bicycles; we’ll care less about our identities and more about the moment.”