Field Day – Empathy

“Courage gives us a voice and compassion gives us an ear. Without both, there is no opportunity for empathy and connection.” – Brene Brown

SESSION 3 RECAP: This week we talked about empathy as it relates to design. While it permeates all phases of design, we emphasized empathy this week to illustrate the significance of understanding people in shaping spaces for them.

We discussed the concept of how equality, equity, and liberation influence the design of physical spaces and how a greater understanding of people, through empathy, contributes to that process. To develop that understanding, we discussed three strategies: immersion, observation, and engagement. We also highlighted how through inference how we can give deeper meaning to our observations. This built on the importance of recognizing different perspectives that we introduced last week.

We also completed an activity aimed at recognizing different reactions to the same circumstance. Reading a passage from Little Women, we noticed how each of the main characters react to a distressful situation, ranging from disappointment, sadness, and embarrassment with sympathy and empathy. We then sketched each of the characters and their reactions to continue to hone skills of observation.

Gina Ford2SPECIAL GUESTS: Last week we were joined by a luminary in the field, Gina Ford. She founded Agency Landscape Architecture + Planning as a way to expand her advocacy and founded as a practice “made by and for women to thrive”. She has worked on landmark projects like the Chicago River Walk and is a renown speaker, emphasizing activism as a key aspect to her practice.

She discussed her love of crafting, particularly sewing, with the campers and connected that to architecture and landscape architecture. The parallels are fun to make – thinking of clothing as architecture for the body, with similar functional and aesthetic requirements as the design of infrastructure. With so many people linking math and science to landscape architecture (it is a STEM profession, after all), I thought this perspective offered a different, but equally valid pathway. I honestly can’t stop thinking about it. Such a great connection to make. 

Be sure to check out her TED Talk, Spaces for Protest, Places for Peace, which is one of my favorites.

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As we mentioned last week, it’s World Landscape Architecture Month. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has started a new campaign this year to highlight the versatility of landscape architecture by sharing a “______ grows here” fill-in-the-blank. With our camp this week, I liked the thought that “empathy grows here”.

Activities: If you’re looking for for activities to help develop empathy, I thought this website “Read Write Think” shared some great examples.

One that stood out was the concept of “Sketch to Stretch”, which is what we used this week. They walked through the book Seven Blind Mice, by Ed Young, which makes a point of showing the perspective of seven different characters. This exercise can work with many other age appropriate books (Hence us reading Little Women).

  1. Read aloud Seven Blind Mice. Stop after each mouse’s description of the object (pillarsnakespearclifffanrope). You can also find it read aloud on YouTube.
  2. Sketch it from each character’s perspective as the story goes along and then put together all of their images and see if they can get an idea of the entire picture.
  3. Especially for younger students, activate students’ schema by having them briefly discuss how a mouse’s perspective is different from a human’s. Before reading, have students pretend to take off their shoes and imagine that they are putting on a mouse’s shoes.
  4. Before reading the ending of the book, have the students try to put together the images from the different perspectives to infer what the entire picture might be.
  5. After this discussion, finish the book.

IMPORTANT! As part of the camp, we are still trying to raise funds for La Casa de Amistad, an organization that importantly facilitates a community food pantry. As so many people are in need during this pandemic, strengthening the efforts of an organization that is already doing so much good amplifies their efforts. This small support is an opportunity for us to help some of the most vulnerable during this pandemic. If you haven’t already, please donate $25 to their COVID-19 Fundraiser.

UNTIL NEXT WEEK:  Be kind, be brave, and be good leaders.

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