Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Apollo Montessori School, Amsterdam - Herman Hertzberger

It is almost possible to say that there is a
mathematical relationship between the beauty of
his surroundings and the activity of the child;
he will make discoveries rather more voluntarily
in a gracious setting than in an ugly one...
We must, therefore, quit our roles as jailers and
instead take care to prepare an environ
ment in
which we do as little as possible to exhaust the
child with our surveillance a
nd instruction.
- Maria Montessori

From the Montessori AMI Bulletin #2, 2006, comes an article about the Montessori schools of Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger, from which comes this brief excerpt.
Even though only five of the twenty-five schools he built are Montessori schools, he has gained a reputation as a Montessori architect par excellence. He attributes that to the fact that every
one of his Montessori schools prepared the way for a new tradition, a different way of handling space...

Hertzberger’s interest in Montessori goes back to his own school days: he was a Montessori child from age four until age eighteen (from 12-18 he attended the Amsterdam Montessori Lyceum). Add to that the fact that he married a Montessori teacher, and that one of his daughters also took to a professional Montessori career, and all the ingredients are in place for a passionate and enduring interest. It is remarkable that he usually refers to ‘people’ or ‘users’; only occasionally does he say children—it says much about the way he sees children as owners of their school.

Leading principles Hertzberger stresses that Montessori was a genius, a great innovator. He is tremendously drawn to her ideas about space and room: allowing the child his own private room for development, in a mental and physical environment that supports and stimulates that concept...

In the Apollo Montessori School in Amsterdam the central staircase is literally the focal point. The brown wooden steps invite children to engage in all sorts of spontaneous or organised
activities. Hertzberger shows a photo where children lie on the steps, working, playing a game of chess. This communal space allows for cross links, it is a meeting place for all. He has provided several points of suspension: ‘hang up a few curtains and you create a theatre, hang up a net with butterflies, and the environment changes again.’

He points out that the choice of a warm material, wood, combined with the very shape and form of steps invite the children to use them actively, to lie on them. ‘See they’ve taken off their shoes. They lie on their tummies, with crossed legs. It flows from the idea that it feels like lying on a table. My shapes and objects try to call up feelings and possibilities: similar to Montessori’s idea of presenting materials.’

1 comment:

  1. I think you should re-read this.

    Yes, children deserve gracious surroundings free from fear of corporal punishment. Yes, children and 'people', not just children.

    Your credibility has taken a 'hit' this week. It's such a shame that small-minded conservatism has crept into this blog, cheered on by ditto-head commenters.

    Violence, intolerance, and bigotry are not family values. We should quit our role as jailers.


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