The Children's School
As proud as our School is of its “green” feat, it is even more proud of what children will be able to learn from its carefully-planned environmentâ€”both inside and out. In the tradition of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, a powerful connection exists between the landscape and the new school building. The siting of the building takes advantage of the sun’s arc and the play of sunlight in the learning areas from early morning to late afternoon. Huge windows ring the learning spaces, and the planes of the roof and skylights tilt subtly to suggest the shape of falling leaves. The effect of this “inside-out” and “outside-in” aesthetic is purposeful: the child is meant to understand the interconnectedness of the built and natural worlds, that together they are part of a greater whole.
Children will learn about harnessing the sun’s energy to help heat the building. They will learn, too, that a building can be cooled through the cross-ventilation and “stacking” effect that occurs when windows and doors are open. A science garden planted and tended by the children outside will teach them about the food-to-table connection. Outdoor learning groves will help them learn how to identify different species of trees by leaf forms and bark. Maple trees will be tapped for maple sugaring in the spring. Rooftop scuppers will funnel and recycle rainwater for use in science experiments and outdoor water play.
This new school building and campus reflect a tremendous amount of thought on the part of teachers, parents and alumni. From the beginning, we were mindful of the real and symbolic importance of schools to those who inhabit them. We understood that the elements of a school’s ‘built world’ could be powerful teaching tools in their own right. At the same time, our 40 years of experience in working with young children has taught us about the essential role that the physical environment plays in piquing a child’s curiosity and shaping his or her sense of well-being.
Ten years in the making, our School mission to “take young children seriously” has come vividly to life in a new building and refurbished campus. Here is something much more daring and innovative than the traditional school-as-a-box. With its varied roof planes, the way it nestles into the wooded landscape, its careful orientation to take full advantage of the sun, the project speaks to a purpose beyond pure functionality: the building and grounds will inspire children to think about how to be good stewards of the Earth’s resources. The new building and campus demonstrates our vision of trying to do it right.
What exemplary ideas do the designs contain that enhance learning?
The program for this Montessori children’s house, a school for 120 children 2-8, was given to us as a “one room schoolhouse”. The two age groups of the school are housed in two classroom “wings,” both joined and separated by the entry area in which quiet activities are located to calm the child upon arrival.
Roof planes subtly tilt against one another to let in light from above between their skewed forms, and they define the classroom spaces below them without the use of walls. The younger children occupy the east-facing wing as they are only in school in the morning; the older children occupy the west wing to take advantage of western light. The building has multiple relationships to the exterior play areas with doors out from every classroom.
The shifting plan allows for multiple experiences of the building that reduce its apparent scale to remain in keeping with scale of the child. It building stimulates the child’s desire to wander, explore and interact with his environment. In order to fully understand it, the building must be occupied and its spaces engaged. The sequence of spaces offers a playful hide and reveal takes the child on a journey in his movement through it and his experience of the unfolding of the building into the landscape.
The children’s house is designed to tread lightly on the earth and to heighten the students’ sense of relationship with the site. The building has a passive solar design with cross-ventilation in order to extend the seasons in which heating and cooling are not necessary. The school opens to the south to take in solar gain. Trellises and louvers on the south and west elevation are used to control the summer sun and dapple and modulate light entering the building. The building is largely slab on grade with a thickened floor slab. This thermal mass, coupled with the building’s orientation to the south, allows for maximum winter sun intake and heat storage at the coldest times of year. The awning windows allow for passive cooling to occur and eliminate the need for mechanical cooling systems.
The palette of natural and regional materials was selected primarily for its durability and sustainability. Interior finishes free of volatile compounds create a learning environment with the best possible air quality. When it rains, the single pitch roofs divert the water into scuppers which create waterfalls. Outdoor, covered spaces allow for more program areas without the burden of additional construction. In addition, the building is designed with a number of multi-functional spaces, further reducing construction and creating open spaces that allow for air flow. This project will be one of the first LEED Certified schools in Connecticut.