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FREE & FULL OF ORDER MONTESSORI LEARNING METHODS APPLIED TO HIGHER EDUCATION GRADUATE RESEARCH & WRITING THEORY Alex Jeffrey Siekierski Graduate Research + Writing (AS 7229) Michael Davis & Joshua White Boston Architectural College Spring/Summer 2011

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Robinson identifies the belief that the downfall in creativity and innovation, to have begun just after industrialism. Coincidentally during the same time Maria Montessori (who I will speak upon later) began implementing her new teaching methods. This was when education began its own assembly line process of teaching that could accommodate the massive increase in attending students. The curriculum at this time only focused on subjects that were most relevant to working life : Math, Language and

Figure 1: Portrait of Sir Ken Robinson

Science. It was the beginning of prioritizing

(Google image results)

Figure 3: Typical Classroom in the 1950’s ( ppages/ppage25.html)

subject matter and as a result the creative arts

their true capabilities are and nor do they

such as painting, theatre, music, and performance As education itself developed standards, so did art all fell to the wayside. the spaces in which they lectured in. Desks all

understand their true talents . High school

It has been Sir Robinson’s assertion that

gears its students for college, which is then

education is currently on a “fast food” model ;

supposed to prepare the student for their

meaning that education currently guarantees

professional career. Sir Ken Robinson (figure

a level of poor quality, 100% of the time and

1), one of the most influential leaders in the

is aimed at delivering this guarantee for rapid

current educational crisis, is an author, speaker

production. Due to this model, Sir Robinson

and international advisor on education. He has

states that, “a time of revolution is when things

claimed that the current educational systems

are happening that upset all the things we

have failed at assisting every individual in

take for granted.” Resulting in the idea that

finding their true capabilities, by not allowing

education needs a revolution rather than mere

for the individual’s creative spirit to develop


So many adults today do not understand what

facing the front of the room where everyone was instructed to only listen to the teacher. As the population of students increased this “formal” classroom setting had to grow much larger at the university level. By doing so it mearly maintained its original standard and simply extrapolated on it. In higher education, this could be applied in a similar way that office workstations are currently arranged in an open environment but are enclosed enough to protect from noise and visual disturbances.

and flourish.

Another excellent example of a well done

It is not the curriculum which will allow this spirit

Presentation Seminar Rooms” (figure 6) which

academic space is the “Plug & Show Computer

to develop but the vehicle in which the student

are an adaptable space driven by technology for

is taking that should promote an environment

a medium sized lecture.

which assists and facilities in the development

The built environment can be a primary

of the individuals creative spirit. Due to the

contributor to the educational institutions

college graduate inflation, Sir Ken Robinson

around the world, by allowing its students to

theorizes that a “college degree is no longer a

explore learning in a multitude of ways suited to

passport to a job; at best it’s a visa.” Due to this crisis of a de-valued education, Architecture should be serving as a means for adding value back into the educational institutions.

the individual’s needs. This cannot occur merely 400 Person Lecture Hall 1996 (Academic Design : sharing lessons learned by William Ammentorp)

at the elementary levels but throughout the entire educational journey, no matter what age. Architects can add value to education through their buildings which can assist in facilitating and influencing change and personal growth for


the creative spirit to develop. Over the last 50 years education has tried to


Educational system started during industrialism(focus on math, english and sciences) Human EcologyUnknown future to prepare forFast Food modelCREATIVITY Revolution not reformLife is not linear but organic3yr old does not = 1/2 of a 6yr oldtradition = conformity-

adapt itself to accommodate and prepare its students for the changes in various professions. Robinson suggests that the small educational shifts in curriculum are not adequate in creating a better learning process for students to grow. It is the delivery and receptiveness of the material that education provides, that is critical for the student to flourish.



- Exercise, nature experiences, cleanliness, fresh air, nutritious food - Focus on children between 3-6 years of age - Free and Full of Order = prepared environment


COLLABORATION Figure 2: Portrait of Maria Montessori In the late 1950’s, Maria Montessori (figure 2), began exploring her unique teaching approach, beginning in Italy. It was a revolutionary method at the time which focused on having a

“Emphasis must be placed on visibility between

teacher directed approach and a child directed

activity areas in order to permit observation by

approach. Montessori’s educational process

the teacher, and activity areas in order to permit

primarily focused on the development of

observation by the teacher and between the

children from the ages of three to six years. She life where they were most receptive and creative. Just because history has shown her methods to be effective in an environment with children, does not mean they will not be-able to help in a similar way with adults. One large disconnect that Robinson emphasizes, is that somewhere is the educational journey

The layout of activity spaces should be based


on the modified open plan facility, where the

For Montessori, visibility promoted freedom

children can observe what is going on from any

and the inclination that if the boundaries of a

part of the school in other words the “modified

space can be visually minimized and the use can

open space” is a space which allows the best

be adaptable, then architecture can begin to

of both open and close philosophies, with a

facilitate collaboration within a larger mass of

mixture of open areas with smaller enclosed


spaces . Additionally this space is open enough to see all activities but enclosed enough to pro-

promote freedom, order, beauty

creative, while the majority of adults do not

tect from noise and visual distractions.

and atmosphere, didatic materials,

believe they are creative and have no idea

In the early 1950’s Maria Montessori had tried to

community life, and reality and

answer the educational crisis at the primary level

nature. These concepts determined

children are creative and believe they are

of their true potentials. Somewhere during the transition from childhood to adulthood; the creative spirit becomes diluted within the educational system. While learning about the Montessori’s principles and theory it may actually be easier to incorporate some of her concepts into higher educational practices. The role of higher education must be to create an educational experience which will allow the individual to continually develop into adulthood at his or her own pace. Montessori believed that architecture at the academic installation must “promote freedom, order, beauty and atmosphere, didactic materials, community life, and reality and nature .” These were the overall concepts of her curriculum that still remain in practice today. Montessori felt in order to promote openness in the “prepared environment.”

while similarly, today Robinson argues that “to meet the challenges ahead, we must redesign

as the criteria of the Montessori

schools to nurture the creative capacity in all of

approach are critical in allowing the

us.” This was one of Montessori’s goals as she began to implement her teaching methods in

creative mind to flourish.

the late 1950’s. In order to create an environment which can nurture the learner, Montessori believed that the curriculum and the spaces they are taught in, must allow for teachings in the areas of exercise, nature experiences, cleanliness, fresh air, and nutritious food. This set of criteria Montessori developed has been histori-


cally proven to be a critical part in allowing the creative mind to flourish.

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felt this was the most influential time of a child’s

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THE SOLUTION Similar to Robinson’s current take on education,

THEORY Architecture at the academic installation must promote freedom, order, beauty and atmosphere, didatic materials, community life, and reality & nature. These concepts determined as the criteria of the Montessori teaching approach are critical in allowing the creative mind to flourish. Architecture in some manner or another must allow for this criteria to be explored at its maximum potential, not just at the elementary level but through higher education and professionally..

PROPOSED IDEA The inclination is that if the separation of spaces can be minimized, resulting in an increase of freedom within the space. Then Architecture will allow for the masses to collaborate and learn at a higher degree. This exploration might also begin with removal of fixed seating and barriers within a space.

Montessori determined that schooling needed a revolution; which occured toward the end of her career, in the early 1950’s. She concluded

The primary connection between Montessori

that it must include “recognition of the goals,

and Robinson is that 60 years ago a large

directions, and powers or characteristics

number of students began attending primary

pertinent to each” student because we all have

schools as a result of World War II and

different capacities and feel them in different

Industrialism. This was the first generation of

ways. The education revolution needed to

family members who attended a “new” formal

be built upon the basic responses of human

style of education (figure 3). Montessori took

beings, which can be made possible, by their

into consideration the problem occurring with

complete development and adaptation to their

such a high volume of students globally and


created a solution for teaching geared toward

One of the most recent educational design feature which can stimulate all minds a like is the use of technology into the spaces as mentioned in the plug and play rooms. It is best to use technology that can enhance the experiental qualities of the learning environment. The better technology can assist in creating real world situations, the increased chance that students will attain the knowledge of solving these almost authentic cituations.

the learners needs. Similarly, two academic generations later we find a parallel problem where masses of people from all ages are going to higher education. Just as Montessori set the foundation for rebirth in an educational crisis 60 years ago, Robinson is trying to create a new solution for the crisis during the technological era. He claims that the pedagogy needs to adapt with the curriculum, not just to allow for the curriculum to change and be given through the same methods, which were the primary problems during Montessori’s era. Montessori has been known for promoting some of the best creative learning environments simply by implementating and maintaing her


academic design guidelines. Even though these

guidelines were developed to serve a space for - Information age children. Some of the examples listed indicate - Learner driven that they can be applied for adults, focusing - Increase number of older students = change on higher education. The components of her - Industrial age (focus on output not outcome) educational guideline, become the summation - Change does not = transformation of elements (openness, visibility, nature, - Learning has to occur @ time, place & pace of the indiand atmosphere) which create Montessori’s comprehensive environment, that promotes vidual learning and creativity (figure 16). learner driven self pace personal best simulation create barrier-free, pepetual learning open access ANNE MEEK network of experts Architecture can facilitate culture traditional + hydrib disciplines Stimulating & varied physical environments are best just in time learning (Taylot & Vlasto’s 1983) perpetual learning automated learning system

A poor example which comes to mind is a typical large scale 300 person lecture hall (figure 4) (4,200 SF, 65FT x 65FT, 14SF per person), with 20 foot high ceilings in the front angled to a 10 foot ceiling in the back, became the best means for housing students in a classroom environment during the 1950’s when population growth was high. Even though this type of space meets some of Montessori’s requirements, it does not allow for openness as a means of a flexible space. Yes these types of spaces have been designed to achieve a high degree of visibility and acoustical soundness (figure 6), but this simply Figure 8: The ROC Aventus building in Apeldoorn – work areas

has grown into a traditional theatre where students watch education in a 21 inch wide seat

These examples of medium sized types of

The ROC Aventus building in Apeldoorn, (figure

academic spaces are driven toward adaptable

8) where the open work areas for the students

use by allowing furniture, technology, lighting

is divided by partial height walls help stop noise

levels (dimmable, zones) and acoustical qualities

and visual distractions while allowing for wall

of the space (partial height walls) to all be

space to be used collaboratively. Montessori

adapted to the users immediate needs. It is

also felt that freedom by flexibility should also

A more adequate space being utilitized in

questionable that the 20 person seminar room

include, visual flexibility and awareness.

higher education is the, “Plug & Show Computer

has undergone many changes to meet the

Presentation Seminar Rooms” (figure 7) (500

present needs of technology, but it seems that

SF, 18FT x 27FT, 25SF per person), which is an

at a larger scale these efforts of adaptability and

adaptable space that is driven by technology.

individuality fall to the wayside in the large scale

These spaces can also serve as a working area

lecture rooms intended to service groups of

for collaboration or a medium sized lecture

300+ persons.

with a fold down table, rather than experience education. Montessori would not agree with the arrangement of furnishings being fixed because they eliminate the flexibility needed for a “learner driven” environment.

Collaboration and its results for creative learning along with adaptable spaces which became known as “open classrooms” (figure 9) in the 1960’s, freed the teacher from traditional methods allowing for more attention to be placed on the individual learner. This process

environment. The flexibilty of furniture and

created a more conducive, caring, relaxing

arrangement of technology allows for the space

and joyful educational environment. This

to become a hybrid and support more than one

approach was an early effort to balance freedom

type of use.

with responsibility, in education. In order for the Architecture to facilitate some of these ideologies it is critical that it allow for a “barrier free, perpetual learning environment which can give access to a network of experts, in a naturally selfpaced, open access model.” Rather than an Figure 9: 1960’s New Open Classroom Environment

in a similar way that office workstations are currently arranged in an open environment but are enclosed enough to protect from noise and visual disturbances. Another excellent example of a well done academic space is the “Plug & Show Computer Presentation Seminar Rooms” (figure 6) which are an adaptable space driven by technology for a medium sized lecture. Figure 7: The Plug & Show Seminar Room

be inverted to support inward collaboration. Groupings of 20 person sections can take place within an overall large lecture space suited for 300 persons with whiteboards facing the instructor for their view rather than the other way around.

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In higher education, this could be applied

outward focused lecture space the role should

openness QUALITY 1

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QUALITY 2 visibility

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Visibility in the lecture hall has been used inadequately according to Montessori’s standards. This element of visibility that she emphasized can be applied to higher education by opening boundaries beyond the immediate space where learning is held. This can be done both horizontally and vertically by the use of partial height walls, glass fronts, and terracing/

Figure 10: Corlaer College 2, in Nijkerk Indeed, the large scale lecture hall has been designed to achieve a high degree of visibility and acoustical soundness, but this simply has grown into a traditional theatre where students watch education in a 21 inch wide seat with a fold down surface, rather than experience education. This is a primary example of a failed space in the eyes of Montessori principals. Montessori would not agree with the arrangement of furnishings being fixed because they eliminate the flexibility needed for a “learner driven” environment.

bi-leveling of the adjacent program. An example of this is done in a unique application at Corlaer College 2, in Nijkerk (figure 10) where bi leveling is the primary

Figure 11: Shipping and Transport College in Rotterdam

means of visual connection throughout the

Designed by Neutelings Riedijk Architects in 2000,

overlapping of spaces and there uses. The space

is the only education and training institute catering

takes advantage of the skylight atrium by having to the entire transport sector and for the portglass fronts on the classrooms allowing the light related oil and chemical industry. It is the global to enter and for visual openness to occur. Even

leader in the area of education for operational and

the circulation space can be used as a classroom

management positions in the transport chains. The

setting and created additional microscopic areas

Shipping and Transport College also provides training

for social interactions.

to all professions in the world of shipping, ports,

Similar to auditorium spaces which have specific uses for performances and keynote

port related industry, intermodal and multimodal transport and logistics.

speakers, the focus is on higher educational

About 3,500 full-time students attend daytime

lecture spaces, which immediately eliminates

classes; in addition, hundreds of professionals from

the collaborative process. One example of a

the business world participate in short- or long-term

large scale space which promotes collaboration

refresher courses each year.

through visually connecting spaces occurs at the Shipping and Transport College in Rotterdam (figure 11).

The schools teaching approach indicates it‘s receptiveness to the changes in the transportation industry and as a result is reflected into a very dynamic looking building, where the architecture speaks the language of transportation. The main eating and gathering area in this building labelled the “canteen“ (figure 12) displays great potential for collaboration. The space is closely connected to nature by directing its audiance toward the waterfront and arranging its furnishings by terracing them down toward the glass facade. Interviews show that the students prefer working together in the canteen“ over the library because of the stunning views, close proximity to food and beverage and the flexible arrangement of dining hall furniture. If the higher educational system cannot begin to quickly change and adapt its process toward the type of learning necessary for the future then why not allow the architecture to take the lead in, influencing

Figure 12: Shipping and Transport College in Rotterdam - “canteen“

and facilitating the growth of the creative spirit through academic change.

Didactic materials are something Montessori uses as a physical learning tool. These materials


Just as nature was a large influence in Montessori’s educational process, she focused

have a special function in her education

on the use of Didactic materials, which were

as they are the props in which the student

used, in the design of a space as the central

learns. These props all have a place with in the

component for hands on experiential learning.

environment and so does all the belongings of

The use and location of these didactic materials

the individual students. Similarly, Montessori

were heavily incorporated into the architecture

also used nature as one of the biggest learning

where each had a particular function. This

tools by connecting it to the environment and

all relates to the atmosphere of her learning

sometimes making it the environment.

spaces which pay attention to all levels of detail. Montessori:

This inspiration by nature can be tied into the role of “community” in higher education, by

Provides areas in where the child can retire to

engaging the natural environment into the

and observe which activity they would want to

academic buildings as much as possible. This

participate in. These spaces must be cozy and

opens itself for a large scale social interaction and a great example of this is in Washington

semi-private, allowing two or so children to It’s called “Alchemist” by Spanish artist Jaume

State, at the Islandwood School (figure 13) which Plensa and it was placed there in celebration of the has created an institute for helping children university’s 150th birthday. and adults develop a community where all its members incorporate a lifelong commitment to

Alchemist was installed on the grassy lawn area in front of the Stratton Student Center facing

learning. The school creates this atmosphere by Massachusetts Avenue. engaging the different age groups in something they find similarly attractive, such as the natural Constructed by Spanish contemporary artist Jaume

observe their surroundings. In the example of the large lecture hall and the plug in play room, areas within these spaces currently do not exist for students to retire to and use independently and as a result, there is no intermediate spaces for individuals and/ or small groups to interact. Due to the one

Plensa and commissioned specifically for the

dimensional qualities of the large lecture hall;

sesquicentennial celebration by an anonymous

it serves as a poor solution for promoting a

donor, the sculpture consists of mathematical

collaborative environment. The non-flexible

closer to nature. One of her last elements

symbols in the shape of a human form.

nature of the large lecture hall and the lack of

relates to the atmosphere of her “prepared”

Plensa’s number-inspired work for MIT is an

environment, which can be conceived as the

obvious homage to all of the researchers and

balanced combination of openness, visibility,

scientists spawned from the Institute who continue

natural connection and atmosphere.

to contribute to the international scientific and

environment and sustainable influences. In a similar way, Montessori insisted on bringing nature closer to the learner and the learner

individual amenities the plug in play room all serve as bad examples of spaces for separating individual and group learning needs.

mathematical community. The sculpture is lit up at night and visitors are allowed to walk inside of the piece to get a different perspective of the MIT campus from the inside out.

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Figure 13: The Islandwood School

nature QUALITY 3

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QUALITY 4 atmosphere Let’s revisit the 300 person lecture hall, which

In higher education, the various numbers in

has not been exemplified as an excellent

specified academic areas of studies and career

example of an atmosphere conducive to

opportunities, clearly become evidence that

collaboration and creative learning. If we

the curriculums in education have been doing

begin to image this space as an atmosphere

a reasonable job keeping current with the

designed with Montessori’s four elements as a

continual changes in the world. It is not the

guideline; it can begin to add value to the future

curriculum that is failing at the college level

of educational institutions. Because this has

but possibly the delivery of the information

become the primary example of a failed space in and dialogue between the information and the

Figure 14: Biogen Collaborative Open Area

our educational system, architecture can begin

learners. As a result, if the Architecture does

to re-evaluate the intentions of this particular

not continue to develop, such as the types

space and how it can be adapted to an organic

of education has begun to, than the spaces

educational process, while keeping in mind the

in which learning occurs will not adequately

needs of the individual user.

support and allow for users to develop and flourish. If the education curricula and the

Presently some excellent spaces in higher

Architecture can develop and evolve together,

education that are suitable places of

then there is opportunity for learners to engage

engagement are cafeterias, intermediate spaces,

with the Architecture, enabling a higher level of

collaborative areas, huddle rooms, media rooms

learning which has not been fully implemented

& studio spaces. Professionally, collaborative


spaces are utilized in an open environment suitable for semi-private interaction. A great example is at a biotechnical company in the town of Weston, MA. Where open workstations might allow for some audial discomfort therefore small partitioned areas (figure 14) were created near the circulation paths around the open areas for individual to collaborate while not disturbing others. This is a space not used as a conference room nor an office, or even a huddle room, but an informal small space

All of Montessori’s goals expressed by the type

to serve as an intermediate space for people

of educational atmosphere all of her schools

to interact. Most importantly these spaces

provided each student. In higher education

were set up to have a comfortable and casual

some of the spaces begin to touch on a similar

atmosphere, very much like a home (figure 15).

type of atmosphere Montessori perused, but

A similar installation is used in, the Robert Jungk

they do not create a whole, rather bits and

secondary school in Berlin, Germany where

pieces. Just because the plug in play room has

every piece of furniture has a compartment

an open arrangement because of its flexibility

for personal belongings. This design feature

in furniture, does not mean it properly allows

takes full consideration of its users needs and

for the necessary visual connections necessary

incoporates them into the space adding to the

in the space. Even the most technological

overall quality of the space.

lecture hall, still may not promote the ideal

Figure 16: Typical Montessori School Plan

learning environment if it does not allow for openness, visibility, nature, and atmosphere, to work together equally. The ultimate goal is to create a suitable learning environment which promotes comfort for all of its users. The openness and flexibility of the space needs to work with the visual openness of that space with its surroundings. Figure 15: Divided open area for social interaction


Grad Thesis Concetpual Beginnings  

This doc is a summary of my grad writing paper from the Spring of 2011.