Imagine Montessori School in Valencia is a muted symphony in terracotta and wood
by Anmol AhujaMar 04, 2022
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by Jincy IypePublished on : Apr 03, 2023
Shouldn't the architecture of educational institutions foster and support exploration and curiosity, to simply, make learning accessible, personal, and fun? Does that not make buildings of erudition effective, helping younglings to cultivate personalities of understanding and empathy, to become well-adjusted adults, and in turn, generate a more empathetic society?
Foregoing homogenisation and unified standards, the didactic design of the Reggio School in Madrid, Spain by the Office for Political Innovation (OFFPOLINN) bases itself on the idea that 'architectural environments can arouse in children a desire for exploration and inquiry.' The school, with its skyline of pitched roofs, concrete arches, and pale-yellow blocks interrupted by triangular glass panes and googly-eyed polycarbonate windows eschews conventional aesthetic congruence and is designed on the principles of the 'Reggio Emilia Approach,' an educational model developed by Italian educator Loris Malaguzzi that pursues to empower children, the building’s primary users, as their own agents of education, compared to other traditional learning environments.
The educational architecture was therefore conceived as a “complex ecosystem that makes it possible for students to direct their own education through a process of self-driven collective experimentation—following pedagogical ideas that Loris Malaguzzi and parents in the Italian city of Reggio nell’Emilia developed to empower children’s capacity to deal with unpredictable challenges and potentials," shares the firm based in New York and Madrid working at the intersections of design, research, and critical body-environmental practices.
According to Andrés Jaque, the studio’s founder and principal architect, an author, and the current Dean and Professor of Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, the design, construction, and function of the offbeat and rather naked school "is meant to exceed the paradigm of sustainability to engage with ecology as an approach where environmental impact, more-than-human alliances, material mobilisation, collective governance and pedagogies intersect through architecture.”
The playfully irreverent architectural approach of the Reggio School carries the objective to become a 'multiverse' where the layered complexity of the environment becomes readable and experiential, as a priority, where its diverse stacking becomes an environment for self-education, with the age of pupils increasing as one moves up the educational building. Articulated in a basic materiality of lightweight cork, concrete, and perforated brick, the erudite institution operates as a bricolage of myriad ecosystems, climates, architectural traditions, as well as regulations, where classrooms and learning spaces reverently intermingle with indoor gardens and sun-drenched squares as a ‘vertical city.’
Like something a kid would carve out with play-doh, the non-conforming school building features a vertical progression that finds a preamble on the ground floor which merges with the terrain, hosting classrooms for younger students, grounded and in tune with the earth. The higher levels of the concrete architecture are stacked on top of this, where students in intermediate classes coexist with reclaimed water and soil tanks that nourish an indoor garden reaching the uppermost levels under a sanctified greenhouse structure.
Classrooms for older students are organised around this inner garden, like a small village. "This distribution of uses implies an ongoing maturity process that is translated into the growing capacity of students to explore the school ecosystem on their own and with their peers,” Jaque explains.
Formalised as a substantial void opening itself via landscape-scale arches to the surrounding ecosystems, the second floor of the Spanish architecture is conceived as the school's main social plaza, the heart of the school's design. Here, the building and its programme encourage teachers and students to participate in school governance and interact with their context. According to the founder, the architecture was meant to prompt the imagination, inspiring students to ask questions about the world, with the school’s physical environment essaying the role of the 'third teacher,' after teachers and the kids' parents.
This 464 sqm central space is over eight metres high, and is conceived as a “cosmopolitical agora; a semi-enclosed space crisscrossed by the air tempered by the holm oak trees from the neighbouring countryside. A network of ecologists and edaphologists designed small gardens specifically made to host and nurture communities of insects, butterflies, birds, and bats. Here, mundane activities like exercising coexist with discussions about how the school is run as a community and what is the way to relate to the neighbouring streams and fields. Ultimately, this floor operates as a more-than-human summiting chamber where students and teachers can sense and attune to the ecosystems, they are part of," adds Jaque, who has also been a visiting professor at Princeton University and the Cooper Union.
Opposed to most buildings concealing their mechanical and service systems, the six-storey form of the Reggio School keeps them visible, “so that the flows that keep the building active become an opportunity for students to interrogate how their bodies and social interactions depend on water, energy, and air exchanges and circulations. The building unapologetically allows pipes, conduits, wires, and grilles to become part of its visual and material ecosystem,” the Spanish architect continues.
The Reggio School also incorporates low-budget strategies to reduce its environmental footprint, foregoing high-tech sustainable solutions. To begin with, the building’s compact verticality helps reduce land occupation, instead of opting for a more horizontally expanded construction which would take up substantially more area, as is the case with most examples of school architecture the world over. It also optimises the overall need for foundations and radically reduces its facade rate.
Because the design for children does not employ claddings, drop ceilings, raised technical floors, wall linings or ventilated facades, it is successful in drastically minimising the cost of construction, as well as the percentage of material wastage. Office for Political Innovation relays how the overall amount of material used in the facade designs, roofs and interior partitions of the sustainable architecture was reduced by 48 per cent, by simply replacing a big portion of the construction with simpler strategies, thermal insulation or mechanical systems distribution. “The result presents a naked building where the non-edited visibility of its operating components defines its aesthetics,” explains the design team.
Eighty per cent of the building’s external envelope is dressed in 14.2 cm of projected 9,700 Kg/m3 dense cork, essaying purposes of isolation and support. This natural solution, specifically developed by the Office for Political Innovation for this project, is used both in vertical and pitch parts of the building’s external volume to provide a thermal isolation of R-23.52, double that of what Madrid’s regulations require. This adds to the passive 50 per cent reduction of consumed energy when heating the school’s interiors,” they elaborate. The irregular surface of the projected cork is also designed to permit organic material to accumulate, where, eventually, the building’s skin will become host to various forms of microbiological fungi, vegetal and animal life. As rainwater is designed to run down the facades, it will nourish the lifeforms inhabiting the cork surfaces.
Led by researcher and structural engineer Iago González Quelle, the design team also shaped, analysed and dimensioned the building’s structure in a way that the thickness of the loading walls could be reduced by an average of more than 150 mm, compared to conventional reinforced concrete structures. In this way, an implied 33 per cent reduction in the embedded energy of the building’s structure was achieved, while the impressive series of structural arches reduced the need for steel reinforcement.
The collaged, accumulated design and visual language of the school garnered by many architectural traditions allow children to acknowledge, comprehend, and gain first-hand experience of being part of larger ecosystems and societies, as an ongoing experiment of human-centric spaces. The Reggio School is a sturdy example of the building’s users gaining education and life lessons, dabbling with collective self-experimentation and unabashed exploration, and co-existing with the structure and its natural context in expanded capacities. Outrightly rejecting hegemony, this educational institution encourages social harmony and makes visible efforts to develop pupils’ personal capacities and identities, preparing them to take the agency to confidently cull out their place in the larger society.
Name: Reggio School
Location: Calle San Enrique de Ossó, 48. El Encinar de los Reyes, 28055 Madrid, Spain
Area: 5,496 sqm
Year of completion: 2022
Architect: Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation
Design team: Roberto González García, Luis González Cabrera, Alberto Heras, Ismael Medina Manzano, Jesús Meseguer Cortés, Paola Pardo-Castillo, Rajvi Anandpara, Juan David Barreto, Inês Barros, Ludovica Battista, Shubhankar Bhajekar, Elise Durand, Drishti Gandhi, Maria Karagianni, Bansi Mehta, Alessandro Peja, Meeerati Rana, Mishti Shah, Saumil Shanghavi
Structural Engineering: Iago González Quelle, Víctor García Rabadán (Qube Ingeniería de Estructuras)
Services Engineering: Juan Antonio Posadas (JG Ingenieros)
Quantity Survey (Project): Javier González Nieto, Javier Mach Cestero (Dirtec Arquitectos Técnicos)
Ecology and Edaphology: Jorge Basarrate, Álvaro Mingo (Mingobasarrate)
Project Management: Ángel David Moreno Casero, Carlos Peñalver Álvarez, Almudena Antón Vélez
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