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    Hertzberger in Delft

    continued

    The original design of the Delft Montessori School from 1960 was for a small school that included only four classrooms, rather than six, which was standard at the time for elementary schools in the Netherlands. A plan for phased expansion, which was underestimated in the original design, anticipated the construction of additional classrooms as the need arose. Phased planning was considered sympathetic to the idea that the building is in a perpetual state of incompleteness, as a stimulus to participation and user interaction.

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    The school was subsequently built in three phases, the first of which, from 1966 to 1968, included the addition of one classroom, and then another, bringing the total to six primary-school classrooms, with a generous allocation of space for circulation and related non-programmed activities, centralized services, and outdoor areas for play and other informal learning activities.

    In 1970, a second phase of construction added two kindergarten classrooms, with a separate entrance and play area. A third phase, in 1981, added three more primary-school classrooms, a multipurpose room for music and games, staff rooms, and a new entrance and courtyard to replace the previous kindergarten entrance and play court.

    The design of the school from 1968 includes six classrooms arranged along a linear communal hall, with two classrooms on the front side of the school next to the main entrance, and four on the back side, opening onto a garden. The complex meandering form of the hall follows the diagonal stagger of a series of L-shaped classrooms, each of which is articulated as an autonomous unit like a house along a street. The stagger also sets up an articulated zone at the entrance to each classroom, which mediates between the public zone of the hall, and the private zone of the classroom, much the way a front porch mediates between the public zone of the street and the private zone of the house.

    Each classroom vestibule includes a partially enclosed coatroom with built-in seating and storage that serves as a practical transition zone for coming and going. It also serves as a habitable zone that students can appropriate for a variety of uses such as independent study activities and projects — outside the classroom, but still within its sphere of influence for supervision.

    View windows and sidelights at child height provide controlled visual connections into the classroom, with built-in display cases, and relights with shelves that function like shop windows along a street. Overhead, a clerestory skylight in each entry bay highlights the individual classroom, emphasizing its identity and autonomy.

    The central hall, which is the main focus of the school, serves as its common room — an extension of the classrooms, with a variety of small spaces that can accommodate a range of individual and group activities. The most distinctive feature within this space is a freestanding "podium block" — a raised masonry plinth deliberately placed as an obstruction in the flow of circulation through, challenging students to appropriate its form as a podium for speaking, a bench for sitting and reading, a table for working, or a stage for performing. For more formal large group performances, it includes an expanded platform that can be demounted and stored inside when not in use. The library at the back of the hall features a fixed, freestanding reading table, with a skylight above, and built-in window seats that provide similar opportunities for personal or group interaction.

    Within the classroom, the split-level L-shaped configuration deemphasizes fixed hierarchical relationships between teacher and students by establishing two distinct zones for different kinds of activities and interaction. The main open area of the classroom along the outside wall is designated for focused work like math and reading, which require a high level of concentration. A high ceiling with tall windows and clerestories enhance the quality of the space, to encourage participation in the more challenging work that goes on here. At the outside window wall, built-in counters, window seats, storage, and display shelves provide a wide range of opportunities for inhabitation and appropriation of space.

    On the inner side of the classroom, a smaller subspace, or alcove, adjacent to the entrance accommodates projects and other small-group activities that need to be separated from the larger space to avoid distractions. This secondary space is like a separate room in a house — several steps lower than the main space, with a low ceiling that provides spatial separation without compromising supervision from the upper level. The entrance landing between these two spaces reinforces their spatial separation and allows unobtrusive access to both from the vestibule.

    Built-in shelving between the upper and lower levels provides additional separation, with a built-in work counter and sink for the project area, and shelving for display and storage of materials on the main classroom side. Shelves and lighting are suspended from the edge of the lower ceiling above to provide additional opportunities for display.

    Outside, at the front of the school, the main entrance opens onto a paved outdoor play court that occupies the northeast corner of the site. The entrance creates a zone of interaction that mediates between the school and community by providing a place for socializing and waiting. Low walls on either side provide a degree of enclosure and protection, and also a place to sit. The entry zone is expanded by the courtyard itself, which opens to the neighborhood to encourage community interaction.

    The back side of the school opens onto a private courtyard and gardens that support other opportunities for interactive outdoor learning. The most significant are related to a series of garden plots and sandboxes, the latter of which were originally subdivided with low concrete-block walls, left unfinished to encourage participation. Individual classrooms also have direct access to smaller terraces of their own, with garden plots and natural areas adjacent for projects and study activities.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    R. Thomas Hille, AIA, is an architect, designer, educator, and researcher based in Seattle, Washington. He has a special interest in school architecture, and designed the award-winning White River High School in Buckley, Washington. He has taught at MIT, the University of Michigan, the Catholic University of Chile, and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art. His previous publications include Form Function in Architecture, an interactive multimedia study of the relationship between form and meaning in architecture, and Inside the Large Small House: The Residential Design Legacy of William W. Wurster.

    This article is excerpted from Modern Schools: A Century of Design for Education by R. Thomas Hille, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons.

     

    AW

    ArchWeek Image
    SUBSCRIPTION SAMPLE

    The Delft Montessori's individual classrooms have direct access to smaller terraces of their own, with garden plots and natural areas adjacent for projects and study activities.
    Photo: R. Thomas Hille

    ArchWeek Image
    SUBSCRIPTION SAMPLE

    To encourage interactive use, the Delft Montessori School library is contained within the open space of the hall. A freestanding reading table and book display provides additional opportunities for spontaneous activities.
    Photo: R. Thomas Hille Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    An unusual feature of the Delft Montessori kindergarten hall is a recessed group sitting area in the center of the floor that deliberately obstructs the flow of circulation through the space.
    Photo: R. Thomas Hille

    ArchWeek Image

    Delft Montessori School classroom floor plan drawing.
    Image: Herman Hertzberger Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image
    SUBSCRIPTION SAMPLE

    Delft Montessori School phased construction plan diagram drawing.
    Image: Herman Hertzberger Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Within a Delft Montessori classroom, the split-level L-shaped configuration establishes two distinct zones. The smaller subspace, located adjacent to the entrance and several steps lower than the main classroom, accommodates projects and other small-group activities.
    Photo: R. Thomas Hille Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    An outdoor classroom terrace at Delft Montessori School.
    Photo: R. Thomas Hille Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Modern Schools: A Century of Design for Education by R. Thomas Hille.
    Image: John Wiley & Sons

     

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