This evening I listened to Barbara Stone (Principal) and Ed Lippman (Architect) talk about the creation of the new building that houses the MLC Junior School as part of Sydney University's Thursday Night Lectures. The school looks amazing, as close to my dream school as anything I have seen in Australia. You can see a little of the layout and sketches on the Lippman Partnership site.
Some of the things that I found fascinating were;
- the school's philosophy (behind both the architecture and the pedagogical approach) draws heavily on the Reggio Emilia approach. Look it up, I did – food for thought
- 'classrooms' per se are pretty much gone. Space is organised into uber-flexible 'studios', but these are generally not walled – one contiguous space may be made up of three 'studios', each with a different class and teacher. The result is 'collaborative teaching', requiring staff to dramatically adjust the way they plan and manage activity
- renaming of spaces (remember the importance of language, people) – 'classrooms' are 'studios', the 'library' is the 'information hub' (or 'hub' for younger children), the 'sick room' is 'health center'
- extensive use of glass and open-able spaces that remove the segmentation typically seen within a school and the delineation between inside and outside (complete with a large central piazza)
- a very modular, flexible and organic approach to the design and fit-out that accommodates both day-to-day change, as well as longer term evolution of needs
Oddly enough, the story that I found most compelling was one that Barbara Stone told about students in the school a number of years ago being involved in the design process. At the time they were in standard classrooms ('egg crates' as Stone described them), and two classes were asked to consider what alternative ways there might be of organising their classroom. They had to develop four possible models, and then they restructured their classroom into each of those patterns for several weeks, taking note of what it was like to be in that space. They worked together to integrate their findings, and each class presented back their recommendation for classroom organisation. These kids were six.