Since receiving that email, I have carried on a correspondence with Aaron. One of the issues for me is: what exactly is a Merzbau? How do I understand it? Aaron has a background in arts education that he draws from. He states in an article for Canadian Art Teacher, that Merzbau is a term created by a German artist named Kurt Schwitters that refers to "…a solid, organic, inhabitable form located within the house he lived in."1 Aaron points out that Schwitter's Merzbau was an open ended and "highly personal, sculptural space."2 One of the defining characteristics of the Merzbau was the connections it created between spaces within his house.
For Aaron, the Merzbau was a concrete construction around the sensory table that changed and grew and created new connections with space for everyone in his classroom. It was also a metaphor for life in his classroom because connections continually change and grow along with relationships with others, the materials and space.
Because of our correspondence and his writing, I began to look at the constructions around my table differently. Over 15 years ago, I remember attaching several large boxes together in a 6' x 12' area of my room over the course of a month. Children could enter into or exit the structure through multiple doors and windows. Back then I thought simply that this was fun for the kids. Aaron inspired me to look at the bigger constructions in a new way. These constructions became solid, organic spaces that the children inhabit. From his email, I resolved to build my own Merzbau this time with an eye towards seeing how the children inhabit the spaces created by the structure.
Last October, I recreated the structure from 15 years ago. It was not exactly the same because the boxes were different sizes and different shapes. I called it Big Box Fort.
From my observations, I started to see different types of interactions by the children depending on how the inhabitable space divided them or brought them together. Whether those interactions took place outside, partially outside or inside.
I subsequently moved some of the big box structure over to the sensory table: Big Boxes Migrated to the Sensor Table.
Like any good Merzbau, it grew. More boxes were added with different connections and orientations.
The new configuration created new spaces that separated play in some ways, but connected play in other ways.
In my latest attempt to create a Merzbau, I have combined 10 boxes over four weeks to form one apparatus. Here is the progression. The first week was a Big Box Big Windows apparatus that was installed horizontally across the top of the sensory table.
The second week I added two more boxes: a large box inserted in the window of the big box and a column box embedded vertically in the big white box. These two boxes created an addition to the original structure.
With the addition of the column boxes, the nature of the play necessarily changed ever so slightly. Without the column boxes in the corner, the child on the left could easily reach the pellets at the bottom of the table. The child on the right, however, had to prop himself in the window to reach around the column box to get to the pellets.
The fourth week, I added three more boxes for a grand total of ten boxes to complete this Merzbau. Two of the boxes are flat boxes taped to the top of the two big boxes. A third box stands vertically next to the big white box and through the bottom of the flat white box.
When you look at the overall footprint of this apparatus compared to when it was comprised of two or four boxes, it has not grown substantially. Here in lies the difference from the previous big box structures at the table. I added boxes on the inside and on the top so the structure grew inwards and upwards as opposed to the the other one that grew out and around. Two different types of growth. Sounds like another metaphor for a Merzbau and life in the classroom.