In the atelier, three and five year-old girls, Francesca, Annarita, and Cecilia, are sitting with their teacher around a table on which drawing paper of various shapes and sizes and drawing tools have been placed. The girls have agreed with the teacher to make a collective graphic representation of a city. Annarita, Cecilia, and Francesca had already made individual drawings of the city center. Having the girls' previous work on hand will allow the teacher to revisit their thoughts and drawings with them as a premise for starting their work. This will enable each girl to compare her thoughts with those of the others so that they can start exchanging ideas, and will also stimulate their curiosity and foster the creation of a group "microclimate."
The City of Reggio
School: Municipality of Reggio Emilia
1. The Girls' City
The girls choose together the type of paper they want to use. The size and shape of the paper itself seem to suggest the position of the town center. Annarita's finger points to and presses down on the middle of the sheet.
The topological identification of the center also determines their starting point, which will not be the town center but their school, which lies outside the center. They decide that they will draw the school as seen from above-a bird's-eye view.
Annarita, Francesca, and Cecilia all sit on the same side of the sheet of paper. It is Francesca, however, who takes the initiative. The use of humor comes into the girls' relational strategies right from the start, immediately creating a group climate in which exchange comes easily.
Francesca: We have to draw it like Simone did, where you can see all the roofs.
Annarita: Yeah, it was really nice, but we have to put the Amusement Park for Birds in it, too, so you can tell it's the Villetta.
Cecilia: And not Milan.
Francesca: Milan! That's silly, are we crazy? We have to do Reggio.
The graphic representation of the school takes a good deal of time. While the girls are drawing, they hold a number of overlapping conversations. Many of these relate to friendships outside the school, and all three girls consistently use the language of prediction to communicate the things they intend to draw. The fact that they started off by drawing a well-mown place such as their school encourages and facilitates the establishment of the tasks that they assign to each person.
The task of representing the city from a bird's-eye view involves an exercise in comparing individual drawing skills, which is resolved quickly through the advice and help of friends. Having defined a topological point of orientation on the map, the girls get into a discussion of the location of each of their houses in relation to the school. Francesca draws the road that leads to the park near her house.
The map of the city follows the girls' criteria of showing the houses. Children's styles, rhythms, and interests are different, and while Annarita and Francesca are exchanging invitations to each other's house, Cecilia continues to draw the school yard in minute detail. At the same time, she keeps in touch with what is happening between her friends, to whom she pays close attention.
The girls' drawing evolves quickly, taking its points of reference from their real-life experiences. The spoken language often precedes the action, as if this action needed to be supported by opinion of the group.
Annarita: If you make the road you're drawing a little bit longer; Francesca, you get to my house. But don't draw it, I'll do it myself later.
Annarita: My daddy works on the other side of town; I'm going over there to do the place were he works.
Cecilia: Yes, go ahead, but make it small, otherwise we can't get the whole city to fit in.
Francesca: Reggio Emilia isn't Milan, you know!
The children's viewpoints of the city are variable and their drawings represent these shifts: views from above, from the side, and in perspective get mixed together in a crescendo of ideas. The girls are also more interested in a city built around the relationships it offers than in its function of spatial connection. To them, the relational function predominates: parks, streets, and squares are places of events and actions filled with real-life experiences, which are expressed in both their drawing and their spoken language.
Francesca is particularly interested in the parks, and she begins to draw one that is in the town center.
Francesca: It's the park where everybody goes to have fun. There are lots of people in the park in the afternoons. There are lots of parks in cities, where people can play and relax; if there weren't any, people wouldn't know where to go and relax.
Streets become connecting links between related places, and it seems that there are two important ones: the Via Emilia, the main crosstown street that runs close to the school, and Via Citta di Reggio, where Cecilia lives. It's Cecilia herself who makes a connecting link between what Francesca and Annarita are doing, by joining the two parts of the city, thus building a spatial boundary that allows a better estimation of what has to be done later.
Cecilia begins to draw her house and the other ones on her street. It seems that the idea of the continuing city is very strong for this group of girls, where spaces are interwoven and run up against each other, and where streets are symbolic borders between microworlds. After working individually, the girls change places again, and they are now coming together around a single objective: the city center and its buildings.
Cecilia: Cities never end. They're all joined together like houses. I live on Via Citta di Reggio and my house is joined to another one-it's a duplex.
An animated discussion begins about familiar places that are going to be represented. The girls agree that the mayor's house should be the first one to be drawn, followed by the theater and the cathedral with the tower in the main square.
The girls often stop to look at their work and assess it together, expressing a strong aesthetic pleasure in what they've done.
Once again the Via Emilia and the squares become the focal points of the city, as well as of the discussions they have about what to do.
Francesca: There aren't just one or two squares in the city, there are lots of them-not two, like we did!
Annarita: I think there are a lot; there are a few on this side of the Via Emilia and a few on that side.
In the end, they decide that each of them will draw one square, dividing the remaining territory into four sections.
At the end of their drawing, the three girls comment on their work.
Francesca: See, when you walk in the town, you can see how the city is made. If you go up high on the top of a house, you can see the city all around and you can see the squares from up high.
Cecilia: Where the square stops, there's a sidewalk with all the houses attached.
Annarita: In the squares there's a lot of confusion, everybody's talking.
The city represented by Cecilia, Francesca, and Annarita is a city full of relationships and life. The parks, the squares, the houses, and the Villetta School, for example, are not only elements of a topological point of view, but they are also, important elements for building relationships between the life of the people and their city.
2. The Boys' City
In the atelier, three to five year-old boys, Emiliano, Simone, and Giacomo, are sitting around a big table with various shapes and sizes of white paper and drawing materials. Their task is to work together to draw a city. Before they begin, the teacher asks the children if they want to listen to their previous conversations and revisit the drawings they had made individually a few days before. The boys agree.
After a brief discussion, the three boys decide to choose the largest piece of paper on the table.
Emiliano: To make a city that's really big you need a big piece of paper!
Simone: As big as the earth-as big as a city.
Emiliano and Simone begin to draw, while Giacomo places himself at the side of the piece of paper.
Conversation among the boys is almost absent at the beginning; it seems that the initial agreement (about where to start in drawing their city) has been enough to enable them to proceed. While Emiliano and Simone sit close together and begin to draw the central square of the city, Giacomo, sitting beside the paper with his elbows on the table and his chin resting on his hands, seems for now to have decided just to observe what happens. In this first phase, the verbal language that accompanies Emiliano and Simone's graphic representation focuses on the essential.
Emiliano: All cities start from a square that's in the middle of the city.
Simone: Okay, we' leave space at the bottom to make the street, that way people can leave and go out.
Giacomo still seems not to participate in the group. For the moment, the teacher decides not to urge him to take part; perhaps it is better to wait for him or for the situation to make the decision instead. Emiliano and Simone, meanwhile, are drawing very close together-their hands overlap, they switch seats often -while the curves of the street they are drawing steadily approach Giacomo. Perhaps it is an initial invitation to their friend to take part in the project.
Simone: The streets go to so many places, and there's one square after another in the city.
Emiliano: Yeah, otherwise you'd get lost. We'll make it with some curves that go that way. Toward where Giacomo is.
After about twenty minutes, Simone explicitly invites Giacomo to participate.
Simone: Giacomo, why aren't you doing anything?
His friend's request makes Giacomo slightly uncomfortable, and after this call to participate he replies.
Giacomo: Cities have to work, and I have to see if it works.
Emiliano: See, Giacomo, this is a different square, it's the one with the field where the children play, and all the houses are different.
This explanation by Emiliano gives Giacomo the possibility of entering into a relationship with the other two children by way of an offer of competence.
Emiliano: Giacomo, can you draw the roofs of the houses? Come on, try!
Giacomo: I know how to make houses with round roofs.
Simone: Will you help us then?
More than thirty minutes have passed since the work began, and in this phase the project becomes more clearly defined. The repetition of certain models (the square) facilitates the children's shared planning and executing. Now it is Giacomo who makes proposals.
Giacomo: Let's make another square. I'm sure there are lots of squares in the city.
Simone: Should we make one with a soccer player who's practicing?
Giacomo: Yeah, good idea!
The three boys are now working side by side, with Simone occupying the central position in the group and engaging his companions in discussion.
Just when the whole group has formed, however, it divides again. Emiliano, realizing that all three boys are working in a restricted space, decides to move to the other side of the paper to make the sidewalks.
Now Simone and Giacomo form a new pair. The square that is represented also becomes a resting point, a place of conversation, a stimulus for the boys' verbal and graphic development. It seems clear that the streets that are drawn become connections between one square and another, a kind of backbone that progressively traces the outlines of the city as it grows. The city that is developing seems to be defined by the functions carried out inside it.
Giacomo: In the squares there are people talking.
Simone: There are pretty squares and ugly ones. Then there are also some squares for parked cars and for soccer players.
Emiliano: I think cities that don't have squares are kind of strange.
Giacomo: I think they don't work well because the people don't know where to be.
Simone: Cities are all connected by the streets and the railroads, right, Giacomo?
Giacomo: Well, yeah, the streets are important for keeping the city together and for making it work.
Giacomo connects another street to Emiliano's street, while Simone adds the railroad and the playground. The first elements of autobiographical narration emerge.
Simone: In the afternoon I go to play at Campo di Marte park.
Each boy now focuses on his own ideas and the verbal interaction of the group is suspended. Simone's railroad, Giacomo's streets that lead to the center of town, and Emiliano's small squares that are being added to the map provide new connections and new complexities. As a group, the boys produce their own idea of a city and progressively define the objectives they want to reach together. The ultimate goal is to make an interconnected city: it must be possible to find a path through the whole city, and each boy steadfastly pursues this mission.
At this point, their city appears to be such a complex urban web that a pause is needed to check the new connections.
Emiliano: We need to see if it's all connected.
Simone: Like in real cities.
Giacomo: We need to make sure that the whole city is connected and that nobody gets lost.
The children think about how to verify this and finally agree to go over the streets with their fingers. The test will be carried out by each member of the group, a rule of fairness on which everyone agrees. Emiliano, after having traveled through the city and its connections, gives a new impetus to the work by asking a question.
Emiliano: Hey guys, but how can you live in this city at night? We don't have any light for the streets, we don't have electricity!
This re-launching of the project generates new ideas and requires that new roles be taken on in the group.
When their work is finished and the children revisit the map with the teacher, they assess not only the aesthetic result of their representation, but also the consistency between the ideas expressed in the group as they worked and the final map of the city.
Giacomo: We made a beautiful city even though it's a little bit messy.
Emiliano: All the streets take you somewhere. It's a city where you can't get lost, where you're not afraid.
Simone: It's a city that could be Reggio Emilia, because there's the Campo di Marte, but it isn't Reggio. Maybe it's called City of the World, because all the people in the world can live in this city.
The city represented by Emiliano, Simone, and Giacomo is one full of functions and connections. The train station, the bus station, the aqueduct, the sewers, and the electrical system are not simply topological landmarks but are important elements for the real functioning of a city, essential to the life of the people.