A holistic approach to kindergarten design and early years Steiner Education
This workshop offered three practical taster sessions on how to integrate organic and holistic design aspects into an architectural design process and how to find relevant design review criteria. It was led by Luigi Fiumara and Lothar Haasis.
The first session incorporated a larger number of participants looking for a one off introduction, but a small circle carried on, taking the actual design task further.
The first session gave space to explore our own being, our relationship to architecture as an expression of our consciousness and the spirit of the time. Understanding architecture not just as an expression of functional requirements and technological advances, but an expression of our cultural values and intentions has profound implications on what we would consider supportive in the early formative years of children’s education. Providing archetypal experiences of beauty, wonder and awe, where human activity is in playful harmony with nature is a core concern for the healthy unfolding of the young being.
The discussion briefly touched on sensing our body, sensing the self, sensing intention and humility. Many holistic design criteria lie outside the functional requirements of a conventional building brief. Exploring the understanding of wholeness in us, the environment and the social fabric is a vital component in the dialogue surrounding educational projects.
The second session focused on the site at Emerson and we practised our site quality mapping skills, by sensing, observing and identifying existing external influences and qualities. In site observation walks, we were looking for the relationship to adjacent buildings, primary and secondary access points and got to grips with the masterplan considerations that formed part of our brief.
We explored the richness of the genius loci, the shaded overgrown garden, old water features and water runs, the mature trees, root and trunk formations, indicating underground water lines or ley lines. We identified the natural features that had to be retained as important to give identity and distinction to the site.
From these very tangible outer observations we went deeper into the psychology of the site, perceiving spatial flows and relationships, identifying areas conducive to certain types of children’s outdoor activities.
The journey went from self-awareness to site awareness and the task felt very broad.
Session three offered a first opportunity to come into actual building design, building on the observations of the previous sessions. The time seemed too limited to tackle a whole building, so everybody chose a principal aspect of the kindergarten that would conceptualise the approach for the entire design proposal.
Priorities were very individual, ranging form defining a meaningful expression of arrival, holding and releasing in the entrance and vestibule layout, to rhythmical sequences in the main activity space, expressing the importance of rhythm in Steiner education. The motif of expansion and contraction, activity and stillness, indoor and outdoor play as a pulsating, flowing movement was commonly recognised. So was the need for nature connectedness, expressed in the visual relationship of vegetable garden, kitchen, seasons table and dining table, or the sequence and choice of natural materials highlighting the need for tangible ecology, accessible to the child’s perceptions.
The workshop ended at the most exciting part, where participants felt the broadness of possibilities unfold within a holistic approach and most of us would have longed to take the practical design development and review much further.
Yet we all went away with a clearer understanding of wholeness as a way of seeing together, revealing the overarching connection and the importance of expressing and creating meaningful and fulfilling relationships for the child.
It also emphasised once more that an organic or holistic design approach can not be rushed, it requires us to live into the experience not just the analysis of the task, the gesture is that of unfolding and growing not of putting together.
We set ourselves a challenge. Could we transcend individual ego-bias: design by whole-group consensus? Could we design by mirroring Margaret Colquhoun’s Goethean place-study method? We investigated the ‘courtyard’ between Pixton and Ruskin, from the vehicular entrance to Tablehurst exit. What would improve it for its function?
First, we silently walked to gather first impressions. The place emanated conflicting messages: interesting but run-down, social space or route? Pedestrian-realm or road?…
We then observed its physical characteristics: no feelings, no thoughts. Challenging! The space was linear, with marked scale and material- and shape-hardness differences between sides: both walls and ground.
The next – and all subsequent – days started with recapitulating what we had done previously. We now studied the approach and entry sequence: how does space flow? Gesture? Expand and contract? We realised that, unlike us newcomers, most students would enter the space from Pixton, Ruskin or Tablehurst, making sense of Ruskin’s staccato-serrated façade’s door-orientations. Nonetheless, all the linear energy was directed into the (apparently boarded-up) window of a private house. Similarly, the courtyard was actually a crossroads: Pixton-to-Ruskin crossing Tablehurst ‘road’.
We next observed the moods of all sub-places, drawing coloured mood-maps. The north side was dominatingly high, hard, sharp-cornered and thought-formed; the south, small-scale, soft-materialed and obviously ‘grown’, not planned. The cerebral contrasted with the warm, homely; the intentional with the charming, humble.
Now we asked: what does the place say it is? Its conflicting messages closely corresponded with our first impressions.
But what should it say it is? “Welcome! Here, your soul will be nourished; your spirit, opened.”
To support this, its mood should combine social warmth with awakening stimulating thinking.
What movement-flow would support this? As a social heart, its views should link the whole of Emerson. But as a courtyard, it should be somewhere to stop in.
In physical terms, this meant improving links to surrounding activities and places; but also social and spatial containment. For visual linkage, demolishing the smokers’ hut would expose Pixton lawn. Additionally, an archway (or more substantial opening) near (or replacing) the flower-arranging hut was proposed but not agreed. For access from Pixton, a ramp and Flowform cascade should edge the West flanking wall; and steps, the East wall: both focusing on Ruskin main entrance. Facing a pool and garden, Pixton back door would become a ‘main door’.
For containment, a bush fronting the private house would give privacy, deflect energy and turn the lane, closing the view. Grassing the courtyard’s eastern end would stop the roadway and link to Pixton lawns. The now courtyard-proportioned western end should be brick-paved and centred on a Flowform ‘rose’ pool, its overflow streamlet feeding the cascade. The two benches (currently facing apart) should form an obtuse angle along the curved end wall.
What did we get out of this? Ten of us, from eight countries (hence diverse cultural bias) managed to consensually agree all but one (due to inadequate time) aspects of the design. These decisions didn’t result from argument, but flowed naturally, each level of decision serving the preceding one. In a mere 4½ hours, this let the place (and Emerson) reveal what it wanted/needed. Perhaps Goethe was right: four-layer observation lets things reveal their being?
Pre-Conference Introductory Workshop
Group 1 - Rudolf Steiner’s Approach to Architecture: Finding Our Own Schooling
10 to 11 July 2013
All our efforts to work out of anthroposophy start from an interpretation of the human being as described by Rudolf Steiner in his fundamental works. The fourfold nature of the human organization: physical body, life body, astral body and ego, together with the threefold soul qualities of thinking, feeling and willing, are keys to this work and are able to inform our architectural deliberations.
Architecture nourishes the whole human being and acts as a mirror and challenge to our conscious growth and development. In 1912 Rudolf Steiner pointed out one of the methods to approach the changing task of architecture when he wrote:
Architecture has to do with the same forces that shape the physical body of the human being. The present body of the human being is built according to the measurements prescribed by the Ark, and the Gothic cathedrals preformed the bodies of the mystics of the later Middle Ages.
This is quite a statement and challenge and one which can be dwelt on for many years. In essence we are being guided to an understanding of how in our own development we can approach a creative working with the Spiritual hierarchies and feed our own creativity. Although this is working on self development it is greatly enriched when we work together with fellow human beings engaged with these questions.
One of the purposes of this workshop, as opposed to the more hands on one, was to offer some vocabulary and practical ideas to help delegates engage with the conference theme from an anthroposophical view point.
As the nine members of the workshop settled down on the first afternoon to start work it struck me once again how creative and valuable it is to sit down with colleagues exploring topics which have drawn us together.
The setting of Emerson College, the carefully prepared room and the many months of preparation are essential elements for making the first moments of a workshop a fruitful departure point for our exploration of the theme and this work seemed to have paid off.
The fact that there was a limited time to open up the theme led Christian and I to work with a simplified description of the twelve senses as a method for exploring seven areas of architectural consideration. The seven areas chosen where those which demonstrated how the anthroposophical approach had made a contribution to the design process which could be examined and illustrated.
Most of the delegates in the workshop were familiar with many of the ideas being presented although not always in the same context. This made the presentations and discussions easier and we were able to spend more time on exploring various related topics. It also made it easier for delegates to bring their own questions relating to their own architectural concerns. As we came to know each other better in the sessions so the working relationship grew richer and this was helped by being the smaller of the two groups.
To focus on the human being as an illustration of wholeness in a process of growth and how this can be closely linked to the architectural process gave us a platform for discussion which fed into the broader work of the conference and posed its own questions.
The fact that many of the delegates from our introductory workshop continued with us into the main conference themes validated the introductory work. As practicing the scales in music is an essential part of being a musician so pondering these fundamental interpretations of the human being is essential to our architectural working out of anthroposophy.