“In a good learning environment, children of different ages are able to move and develop themselves freely.” – Maria Montessori
CONTEXT: STARTING FROM RESEARCH AND PEDAGOGY
The starting point for the Montessori pedagogy is that every child has an intrinsic motivation to develop him/herself, but that every child does so in his/her own way and time, depending on their character and predisposition. “Help me do it myself,” is the core of the Montessori philosophy. Creating the best learning environment, which stimulates movement and development, is crucial.
Maria Montessori thoroughly described how to create a good work- and learning environment: this is an environment where children from different ages can adopt alternating positions. This vision is confirmed by recent scientific and academic research. Researchers including Erik Scherder (professor Clinical Neuropsychology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), and Ben Mardell (professor and project leader of ‘The Pedagogy of Play’, Harvard University), stress that physical movement is needed for the optimal cognitive development of children.
Studio Samira Boon takes both the Montessori pedagogy and recent research studies as her point of departure for the design of the furniture for the 8th Montessori elementary school in Amsterdam.
CONCEPT: A HEALTHY LEARNING LANDSCAPE
“Our aim is to make a design that is as valuable as possible for the school, while staying within a tight budget. This led us to a modular concept: 3 basic elements that fulfil a diversity of functions through small adjustments. By combining functions, the furniture minimises the impact of coat racks and storage of materials, to create a space for improvisation, discovery and creativity.” – Samira Boon
The multi-age classrooms are a hallmark of the Montessori School. Therefore, for the central hall of the school a diverse learning landscape has been designed with modular elements that can change along with the growth and needs of child and school. The abstract modular furniture series stimulates the imagination, facilitates a diversity of postures and creates a diversity of learning spaces. There are places for individual study, meetings and collaboration.
The library at the entrance of the school strengthens the relationship between the ground floor and the first floor. The 80 identical modules are arranged in a playful and careful manner. A book shelf can become a private sitting area, or a place to read each other aloud. By designing the library in conjunction with the other functions, a stimulating space is created that invites the children to go on playful exploration.
“A coat rack is simulataneusly a storage, a desk support and a standing or sitting place. The diversity that is made possible by this multi-functionality is in tune with the vision and emphasis on variety, movement and creativity that are central to the Montessori education system.” – Holga de Vries, director 8th Montessori School
FUNCTIONALITY AND SIZE
The modular series consists of wardrobes, bag-boxes, benches, bookcases and desks and is designed from the perspective of the end-users – that is, the children. The optimalisation of the different functions on the one hand, and of the plate material on the other, has been decisive for the size of the modules. The result is an efficient grid of 31 x 31 x 31 cm.
The strength of the above-mentioned optimisation resulted in 2 simple and cost-efficient basic elements.
ONE SIZE HOLDS ALL
Through small adjustment the function of the basic element is transformed: from coat rack into book shelf, sitting element or bag-box.
Variations on the basic element: coat rack, book shelf and bags storage.
Next to the adjustments, each element can also fulfil multiple functions. An element may be a storage for coats, bags and teaching material, while simultaneously being used as support for the table tops.
The elements can be assembled to the wishes of teachers and client. This creates unity in the learning landscape, and also a great diversity of combinations. Small pieces of furniture can be moved and grouped by the children themselves to stimulate their creativity.
The assemblages are never higher than 93 cm for toddlers, and 124 cm for the older children. The interior of the central hall remains open and spacious, both for the children and for the teachers.
“The smart way in which functions are combined makes the central hall a clear space where I can easily keep an eye on the children.” – Rachel Jobels, teacher 8th Montessori School
“Even more important than a correct sitting position, is variation in postures.” – Piet van Loon, orthopaedic surgeon
The innovative character of the furniture series for the 8th Montessori school lays in the translation of pedagogy and scientific research into a functional learning landscape for the 21st century in which variation in postures is stimulated.
SUSTAINABILITY IN ADAPTABILITY
Schools are always in transition. At the Montessori school also the composition of the classrooms and the number of pupils per classroom changes every year. The furniture design for the 8th Montessori School can easily be adapted to these changing situations and needs. A modular system is a sustainable and future-oriented system.
For the production of the first series, Studio Samira Boon collaborated with local furniture maker Karin Heuvel and the elements are produced using FSC certified wood.
LIKE A 3D PUZZLE
The starting point for this assignment was to create one single solution for all the loose furniture, and to create unity and cohesion on the central learning hall. The main challenge was to maintain a sense of openness and rest, while integrating abundant storage space for coats, bags and teaching materials with spaces to work, meet and play.
Based on a simple and cost-efficient modular system, a coherent learning landscape has been created. Like a 3D puzzle, the small basic elements form alternating configurations and each time unique learning environments.
The design is playful and dynamic, while also being light and calm. Closets and storage spaces can be (partially) opened or closed to create more tranquillity.
“It’s very funny that I can hang my coat in the table leg.” – Steph, student 8th Montessorischool
LEARNING FROM AND WITH EACH OTHER
The furniture is the result of a dialogue between client, users, producer and designer. As a result, the interior has been realised within a limited budget and yet optimally meets the needs of the school.
However, cooperation was not only the basis for the realisation: the furniture also actively promotes cooperation. According to the Montessori pedagogy, a child’s development is closely connected to others: to other children, to teachers and to parents. Students learn with and from each other. The ability to work, learn and play together is central to the design of the furniture for the 8th Montessori School.