Andrew Hart believes “the greatest laboratory” lies beyond the confines of a classroom.
“Getting students out of the classroom into real-world situations is the best form of learning,” said Hart, a visiting architecture professor who promotes this philosophy in his Guerrilla Altruism class.
The class is named after a phrase coined by former architecture professor Scott Shall. The phrase represents the intersection of social justice and communal leadership of guerrilla groups. The course introduces students to strategies used by contemporary artists and activists globally, like Banksy as well as the work of local organizations like Sharswood’s Community Futures Lab.
Students then design their own projects to address social and environmental issues in Temple’s surrounding communities, Hart said.
Several of Hart’s Guerrilla Altruism students created projects now displayed in the exhibit, “Searching for Sharswood: Resilient Voices from North Philadelphia.” The exhibit, which also features work from University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia University students, will be housed in the lobby of the Architecture Building until Friday.
The exhibit consists of several posters highlighting student work in Sharswood — a Philadelphia neighborhood undergoing a massive Philadelphia Housing Authority redevelopment project — which ranges from community service projects to architectural designs for energy-efficient, low-income homes.
The Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance, a branch of the architectural advocacy group the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, helped design the exhibit.
Following the exhibit’s conclusion at Temple, it will be moved to Penn and then Philadelphia University. After, the posters will be divided among businesses in Sharswood and Brewerytown.
In Fall 2015, Hart, a Young Friends member and the co-curator of the exhibit, taught his first section of Guerrilla Altruism, a course Shall first developed in Spring 2010.
“The concept [of the course] was to get students out into the community, identify an issue and then try to come up with a viable solution to that issue that they could enact within the timespan of one semester,” Hart said.
He decided to center his students’ projects on Sharswood, his own neighborhood. He said he thinks students have a civic duty to perform activism.
He added that a student who attends college here becomes “a citizen of Philadelphia.
“Rather than just maybe learning about the history of things, you can go out and interact with the history, maybe impact the design, do something that makes a difference,” Hart said.
When Hart asked his students to propose projects, Madeleine Frazier, a sophomore psychology major, chose to create a collaborative community newspaper, Sharswood News.
Though Frazier initially enrolled in Guerrilla Altruism to fulfill the General Education Program Human Behavior requirement, she realized while interviewing Sharswood residents that it connected with her psychology studies.
“I’m interested in people, I’m interested in behavior,” Frazier said. “That definitely tied in with our projects and gave me a personal drive to do something for the people.”
Joshua Jankus, a sophomore chemistry major, said the course helped him engage with Philadelphia issues beyond Temple’s borders.
“It’s easy being on a college campus in the middle of North Philly to want to hide from the city,” Jankus said. “Having that community outreach, that sort of perspective, it’s influenced the way that I look at modern issues on the campus, for instance the football stadium.”
“The community is smart, and they’re motivated, and they deserve just as much of a say in everything as we do,” he added.
At the opening of “Searching for Sharswood” last Tuesday, Jankus and Frazier spoke on a panel with other featured students.
Kat Engleman, another panelist and a third-year Penn landscape architecture graduate student, spoke about her decade of work in community organizing. She is working to rebuild North Philly Peace Park at 22nd and Jefferson streets, which had to move across the street to make way for PHA’s redevelopment efforts.
As a member of the student group Diverse Design, Engleman helped develop a new design for a community garden and one-room schoolhouse in the park. Last July, she said the group held a landscape build to create new planters, seating and greenhouses for the garden.
Engleman added that they also wanted to incorporate African-American aesthetics into the design of the schoolhouse.
“Most designers are not Black, and they’re also not Black women,” Engleman said. “So we felt like it was really important not only for us to do that work but also to be working in an all-Black community, to be trying to figure out what the design aesthetic and history could be for this new space.”
Through wood panels — which will create gaps in the wall that allow for light to be let in — she said the design will mimic how African weaving techniques filter light to create interesting shadows.
For Hart, Sharswood is an ideal template for Guerrilla Altruism and other student activism because it encompasses so many different subjects.
“It’s a multifaceted issue that has to deal with economics, culture, geography, jobs, history, architecture, built infrastructure,” Hart said. “If there’s a topic that you’re interested in, it’s definitely occurring in that neighborhood.”
Ian Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ian_walker12.