The classroom: unit of obstacles to education

This is a guest publication by Gabriel Lucena.

12 :35 pm. Yvon Lescouarc’h, professor of Building Site Conception and Construction asks the third question to the 200 students sitting in the Amphitheater 310 (which fits an audience up to 310 people). For the third time in the day, no one dares to leave the commodity of their armchairs to answer. However, the answer is evident: the tilting of the structure has to be forbidden in three different directions which must not be parallels. Students learned the answer Ms. Lescourac’h seeks four classes ago. Silence is installed awkwardly in the amphitheater. The eyes from students leave the scene towards their phones, the neighbor, far, far from this uncomfortable silence. At last, the professor proceeds to answer himself, repeating the answer already known by everyone. And thus, we consider that lesson learned.

This situation represents a scenario where the majority of students in the world find themselves. Where the minorities from developing countries dream to be. Where our occidental society considers a successful accomplishment of the minimum requirements expected of an individual in order to be installed into society. The Education is a subject our politicians speak about repeatedly. Debates are held around work tables everywhere in the world, at schools and universities alike. Books and research exist largely, alternative systems have already been implied in entire countries and they are living proof of the success of their schemes. Nevertheless, the scene that I just described isn’t at all unknown by an excessive amount of educative establishments in the occidental world. The Education has always been a debate subject that has profoundly interested me. I am currently at the summit of the experience as student, having, as the youth of the biggest part of the world, dedicated 16 of my 22 years to nothing other than my studies. I’ve experienced various successful educative schemes which differ a lot from each other. I’ve been lucky enough to try different models of learning and I’ve been interested at the potential of the human being since my university studies, and the way this potential is treated by our educative models. I consider this subject, therefor, highly personal. In the opportunity that this essays presents for me to treat such a personal subject in a professional manner, I find the occasion to explore deeply the reasons why our educative courses ignore and forget the motivation of the student as a natural state. To understand why the system forces him to follow a path of knowledge absorption, in order to then ask for his emancipation of the system through the choice of a career after being summoned what to do, following the mass his entire life.

In the year 2012 I started my architecture studies in the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV from its initials in Spanish). The University City of Caracas, complex that hosts the university, constitutes an exemplary manifest of architecture set to serve the human being, allowing him to execute the entirety of activities the space has been designed for. It is here that I encountered the ability of architecture to make the action carried out in the space easier, at an unattainable level elsewhere. It is this lesson the architecture of this institution offered me that incites me to deeply explore the way our profession could solve such lack of student motivation, under the frame of our new millennia and the speed of growth of our contemporary world.

We are going to begin by studying the actual conditions of the educative system, exploring the thesis contained in the argentine documentary ‘The Forbidden Education’ which presents a series of critics to the current occidental educative system, in order to deepen our understanding of the problematic while drawing a contrast with my personal experiences in class. We will then observe the propositions for a different model of a personal project that I engaged in twice, two consecutive years, where I went through a preparation process with a workgroup entirely consisted of students, with the goal to compete in the National Model United Nations at the headquarters of the UN, New York. We will continue revising another alternative model, the Scout Movement, where I actively participated for 8 years of my youth. Having made the comparison with an educative model whose environment is nature, in an absolute absence of buildings, we will study the architecture of the first Montessori School at Japan, built by the architect Takaharu Teszuka. Teszuka made a conference in the city of Paris at the Cité de l’Architecture on April 2016 that I had the opportunity to assist, and in consequence we’ll proceed to study the Montessori model itself. Lastly, we’ll study the relationship within edification and education from a book named ‘Scholar Architecture and educative success’, under the direction of Maurice Mazalto.

The principal question to develop in this essay will be the following: How could architecture stop following the educative model of magisterial courses (lectures) in order to promote instead a more personal and individual approach to learning? In a construction atmosphere so tightly linked with investment and the necessary economic funds to build, shouldn’t architecture recover its anthropocentric character to question our contemporary life, and improve it instead of adapting to it? How much should architecture question itself, like modern architecture did in the beginning of the last century, to redefine its political aspect and disassociate from its lucrative needs?

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Detail of “The Rape of Proserpina”. Work of art by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, at the young age of 23 years old. Example of the genius of human capacities, under correct education.

I- Development of References. ‘”The Forbidden Education”

« Plato – And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it’ the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive someone saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, – what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Far truer. »

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The Allegory of the Cave 1, where this text has been taken from, is a part of The Republic, VII Book written by Plato in the year 380 before J.-C. In this Allegory, Plato describes a scene where a group of slaves are forced to sit at the end of a cave, with their feet and heads chained and therefore obliged to look straight. In the wall they have in front of them, the shadows of different objects held by other persons are reflected, produced by a fire that is placed behind such persons and halfway between the prisoners and the exit of the cave, main source of light. Forced to observe these figures during their entire life, these shadows become their only access to the outside world and in consequence, to knowledge itself. Plato asks at this point which would be the consequences of liberating one of these prisoners and how he would experience the real world. Would he be capable of understanding these new notions of reality? Or will he become blind due to the sunlight and the delay he had to experience it, after having passed an important portion of his life inside the cave?

Many interpretations have been given to this Allegory by various authors. Some link the idea with politics, and the way politicians manipulate masses (interpretation largely expanded due to the subject of the book, in The Republic Plato develops on the notions of justice and the political constitution of a society).

Other authors speak about the development of knowledge, how it differs from forming an opinion and how a human being can describe the world perceived by his senses in order to transmit this knowledge. For the sake of explorations we will later develop in this work, let’s take interest in the second interpretation as well as the contrast made the cave as a built space.

The Forbidden Education 2 is the product of an exhaustive work of investigation on the educative model of the occident world. The documentary can be found online in the webpage www.educacionprohibida.com subtitled in English, and it has been given a Copyleft license, which the producers used to encourage the sharing of the piece. Due to a lack of translation of the synopsis found on the site, I will paraphrase the description given to the film:

The School is already over 200 years old and is still considered the main road to education (…) Since it’s origins, the scholar institution has been characterized by structures and practices that today are considered obsolete and anachronic. We believe that they fail to uphold the necessities of the XXI century. Its principal error is found in an ideology that doesn’t consider the nature of learning, the liberty of choice or the importance that love and human relations maintain in the individual and collective development.

After these reflections have emerged, throughout many years, propositions and practices that have thought education in a different way. “The Forbidden Education” is a documentary film that proposes to recover many of these ideologies, exploring their ideals and visualizing such experiences that have dare to change the structures of the educative model of the traditional School.

Over 90 interviews with educators, academics, professionals, authors, mothers and fathers, a path in 8 Ibero-American countries assembling together 45 non-conventional educative experiences (…) a total of 704 co-producers have participated with their financial support making The Forbidden Education a project of an unexpected magnitude, which demonstrates the latent to develop, and the emergence of new forms of education.

I.A- The massification of Education.

The documentary begins it’s critic of the educative model explaining it’s roots and how it was born, creating a historic tale of reasons and modifications. Public, free and obligatory education has not always existed as it does today. In Athens, for example, the first academies of Plato were spaces of reflection, experimentation and especially exchange. “Obligatory education was something for slaves” says the documentary. The education in Sparta is also mentioned, being an educative system very similar to the military instruction where the State suppressed those who failed to reach the expected level. Afterwards, Rafael Gonzalez Heck from the Rudolf Steiner School in Chile, makes a jump in history to speak about the moment when education transformed to be imparted by the Catholic Church, entirely modifying its structure.

Heck develops a theory that places the beginning of public, free, and obligatory education at the XVIII century, during the Enlightened Despotism. The school as we know it, according to the documentary, was born in Prussia with the objective of avoiding the revolutions that where happening in France. The monarchs included some principles from the Illustration to satisfy the masses, however, never truly modifying the absolutist regime. It’s structure, with a heritage from the Spartan model, promoted discipline, obedience and the authoritarian regime. Heck attacks directly the model, accusing the Enlightened Despots of trying to produce a docile nation, obedient and ready to participate in the wars among states of those times. Heck’s speech even describes the way Catherine the Great, from Russia, made a calling to the French encyclopaedists, such as Diderot notably, to form a conglomerate of knowledge. “A formula forming not citizens, but subjects obedient to these states” according to the description of the interviewed. I find in Heck’s accusations a strong will to undermine the efforts and huge benefits of the titanic work made by figures like Diderot, to recover knowledge from diverse sources in one place, one work. The capacity of transmitting knowledge has without a doubt the written word as starting point. The access to learning that a student can effectuate by himself, at his rhythm, is just unbearable without the book. In consequence, the encyclopedia becomes directly the source and tool of excellence for the student. Scratching Diderot’s work with an objective of submission seems therefore excessive, particularly when its redaction means such an important step for the student’s emancipation of the educative system. No other way seems more effective between a person and knowledge than a book, other than experience itself. Offering an approach to learning without needing some else, a professor, is a way of education I’ll develop further later on, but a precision regarding Heck’s affirmations needed to be done. Let’s continue then, to follow the reconstruction of education’s historic path until our days.

To finish the reconstruction, the documentary places us in a positivist world that was currently undergoing tectonic modifications due to the last big revolution of humanity, the industrial era. Ruled by an economy of production, the motor of society will pass from being religion and monarchy to be presented by money. The world becomes focused in obtaining the best observable results with the minimum inversion, therefor effort, possible. “The School was the ideal answer to the need of workers” affirms the documentary. It continues underlining the main industrials of the XIX century (John Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Henry Ford) as the principal financers of obligatory scholarship thanks to their foundations. “How do we educate them (the kids of workers) to make them learn to work, how do we create intelligent workers?” is the question asked by Fernando Joquera from the website yoaprendo.cl, an online education site also from Chile. The model of mass production, was perfect for the School. A student education became similar to the manufacture of a product. It demanded a series of stages determined by a specific order, with prohibitions present to their normal behavior: remaining silent, speaking only when permission was granted. The contents were generalized and classified in courses, in an obligatory manner, giving absolutely no interest to the desire of the student. The contents gained a specific moment when they were to be worked and studied, and thus, creativity, questioning, and the student’s spontaneity were replaced by a discipline to follow a superior, and to wait for his instructions.

Plato, in The Republic, tells us regarding the subject:

« – Calculation and geometry and all the other elements of instruction, which are a preparation for dialectic, should be presented to the mind in childhood; not, however, under any notion of forcing our system of education.

– Why not?

– Because a freeman ought not to be a slave in the acquisition of knowledge of any kind. Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.

– Very true.

– Then, my good friend, I said, do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to find out the natural bent.

– That is a very rational notion, he said.

I.B – Architecture of the occidental educative model

The Architect’s Data book, (Arte de Proyectar en Arquitectura3) from Ernst Neufert, 1956, makes a reference to another work named Construction and installation of the state higher educational institutions in Prussia (Bau und Einrichtung des staatlichen Höheren Lehranstalten in Preussen) from DELIUS, O. Berlin 1927 to precise the dimensions of the classroom for educative establishments. It’s of utter curiosity the way Neufert, major consulting source in contemporary architecture, explicitly appeals “Prussian Orders from 1895 and 1930” (Arte de
Proyectar en Arquitectura, page 142) to dictate
dimensions to these rooms, giving a strong argument
to the documentary’s thesis.

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For the classrooms of kid’s Schools from 45 to 54 students, Neufert (following the demands in the Prussian model) the dimensions should be as follows:

Surface for classes of 45 students: 6 x 9 m= 54 m2 Height of ceiling: 3, 20 m; 3, 50 m preferred =190m3 Surface per student: ≥ 1 m2
Surface per student in superior classes: ≥1, 20m2

Air cube by student: ≥3, 50 à 4m3

Distance among chairs : a 50cm, b 50cm, c 126cm, d 60cm (see plan A)

Neufert offers various drawings where we can understand the different arrangements proposed by the Prussian Orders. We include in the following page the images of theses propositions to understand their situation, specifically regarding the “Distance among chairs”. Through the various drawings, the way the courses are developed becomes explicit. Chairs are all arranged in various ways towards the professor, demonstrating the hierarchy of his figure as unique source of knowledge. The exchange among students, the discussion, the seeking of knowledge through debate is not only discouraged but forbidden by the silence required and the classroom itself. I’d like to underline with this example a clear statement of architecture adapting itself to a model, and therefore, the inexistence of the inverse.

We have measured the classrooms for kid’s Schools since regarding the Institutions of superior education and universities, Neufert begins by saying: “For the institutions of higher education are applicable most of the norms given for the Schools in general, pages 141 to 147”. Next, Neufert offers us different sections where he demonstrates the best arrangement for amphitheaters, we add them as well to express their dimensions in a more explicit way. We perceive once again the interval space left within the rows of students. The model of amphitheaters that we talked about at the beginning of this essay demonstrates again the alienation desired among students in order for them to expect instructions from a superior. A diminution of human autonomy continues to be suggested as a hidden target.

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II.A- Personal Experiences. The National Model United Nations

The National Model United Nations at New York is a college degree competition involving 5000 students from 144 universities of the world. Here, each university is represented by a delegation that is granted a Member State to represent, out of the 193 countries being a part of the UN. “To effectively simulate their roles as diplomats, participants in NMUN programs must learn the history of their assigned state, the history of the United Nations, the committee structure and rules of the United Nations, and the current perspective on global affairs espoused by their assigned state.” This description can be found in the history document of the NCCA, the non-profit institution in charge of conducting the Model, at http://www.nmun.org/board/NCCA_History.pdf. History, culture, internal and especially external politics and affairs of the country then become the subject of study of the delegation. The delegation, formed around 20 students, is then divided according to the chosen country in couples and these teams prepare for several months to participate.

In the precise case of the delegation that I participated in, the delegation of the Central University of Venezuela, the preparation first consisted of a selection process open to every student of the university. Next, the delegation undergoes a training of 10 months before going to the 1 week long model. The meetings were held each Saturday, and they are strictly developed in English. Besides the academics content the delegates study, we prepare the tools necessary to be a politician. Public speaking, communicating with and seducing a mass, practices to entertain debates and exercises in crisis situations are repeatedly practiced. The work is then divided in a strongly academic work of research and production of redacted material to acquire the knowledge, and another exclusively practical part, where we engage in different scenarios and exercises to develop the personal competences required. The preparation is therefore holistic and interdisciplinary.

Many universities give the responsibility to build and maintain this delegation to a Political Affairs professor. These are professionals with a large education in the subject and that usually carry different positions and the Faculty of Law or the Faculty of International Affairs. Even in our university, various delegations that participate at different models (HNMUN in Harvard, Boston; WMUN in a different country every year) also maintain this scheme of preparation imparted by a professor. In the delegations where I participated, this figure doesn’t exist at all. The entirety of the organization, from the administrative affairs up to the teaching of the practical subjects, are carried out by students that are also part of the group. Four figures of authority exist, to assemble the initial selection process and to guide the students during their formation, but these four positions are also held by students of the university that have participated in previous years. They are in charge of organizing the meetings, but the preparation becomes a teamwork and each delegate prepares his research throughout the week to present it on Saturday to the entirety of the delegation.

The competition is visited by a rough number of 400 delegations from universities of the entire world and its duration is only one week, with the headquarters of the United Nations as a backdrop. At the end of this week, 45 universities are classified in three categories, 20 Honorable Mentions, 15 Distinguished Delegations and 10 Outstanding Delegations. I had the chance to participate two consecutive years, representing Ghana and Australia in 2014 and 2015, respectively. In 2014, our delegation was awarded the status of Distinguished Delegation, and in 2015 we were entitled the Outstanding Delegation award. The efficiency of our way to work is evident.

II.B – Architecture and teamwork.

What would an architecture that encompasses this type of work look like? The anachronic model of magisterial courses is evidently out of question. The quest for knowledge in this team is effectuated, thanks to debates, to conversations held around tables. The requirements to perform this kind of work are not so specific. The objective is accomplished simply by having a classroom roughly protected from external noises and by arranging the chairs in such a way that students get to look at each other. Could we consider these requirements, like a subject for architecture?

Architecture, after the knowledge that I’ve gathered throughout my last three years, works more on the how than on the what. Engineering handles the what. An engineer in charge of building a classroom would measure the amount of students times the quantity of space they require, so as to insure the stability of the structure and finally rendering the most effective classroom possible. We have, indeed, the what, a classroom.

The architect, instead, introduces the human being into the equation. With this addition, sociology, psychology, physiognomy and even philosophy come into play, to render an effectively anthropocentric result. Thus, the architect asks himself, how old is the student? What are his interests, his dreams, his fears? What’s the relation between the being that will inhabit this room, and the development of the activity he will endeavor? And even, what’s his relation with the context? Le Corbusier told us about it. “Our man is (…) armed with two eyes placed in front of him, at 1,60 meters of the ground and looking up front. (…) Armed with his two eyes and looking in front of him, our man walks, he moves (…) he is resentful to emotion, due to successive commotions…” In the classrooms of the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences of the UCV (World Cultural Heritage of Humanity according to UNESCO in the year 2000), the windows open from a 5th floor towards the Botanic Garden of the university, towards the chaos of Caracas, the city, and towards the Avila, the mountain. The classroom of the architect understands its context and seamlessly introduces them into the composition. The elements surrounding the space offer to the student the tranquility emitted by the observation of the tropical nature around him. The architect grabs the immensity of the blue sky from the eternal spring, the huge contrast between the size of the buildings and the grand mountain, the green of the nature that sprawls everywhere in the city and introduces them in the student’s conscience to calm his spirit. To guide him towards a calm state of mind, where his thoughts may flow with ease with the sound of the wind entering such windows. It is the tranquility of this space that promotes the exaltation of spirits by debate, by discussions and by the exchange among students.

Nevertheless, all these conditions are applicable to the classroom regardless of its arrangement, careless of what happens inside. We found ourselves with the following question: is modifying the educative model a subject of architecture? Is the ability to modify what happens inside the classroom truly a matter that concerns it? And furthermore, is the classroom, the walls, the building, truly the best environment for education?

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View from the classrooms of the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the Central University of Venezuela. Photo by Mariana Valladares.

II.C – Personal Experiences. Scouts.

At the age of seven, I entered the Scout Group La Salle T.H. (the group of the school I attended). I stayed in the group until the age of 14. The Scout Movement focuses on ludic activities with educative objectives, games in nature and community service; all of them with the goal of sculpting the character of the young and teaching him human values in a pragmatic way. This is achieved through the example of the adult guide.

Throughout my time in the group I was a part of the two youngest divisions of the group, the Cub Scouts (7 to 11 years old) where the ambience is a happy family and the Boy Scouts (10 to 16 years old) where the ambience is a strong completion within the different troupes. All the activities are developed outdoor, either at the group’s headquarters or in nature. The education that I received from these years could be considered as an integral education, a preparation for life. Human exchanges, the first discussions, fights, the challenge of overcoming frustration, the way to heal feelings, to feel them, the entirety of experience that comes from living in community and the sharing it involves, all these lessons are learned in a natural way through the gaming of the Cub Scouts. Teamwork, to sacrifice for the greater good, the wise and fair sharing of food, the planning and distribution of responsibilities to be able to leave one, two, three weeks to the mountain while camping, the direct and nourishing contact with nature, to adapt to an environment, sleeping under a tree as the only protection from the rain because the tent broke in the middle of the night due to the wrong assembling by someone in the troupe, how to face problems, crisis, the inevitable situations of life itself. All of these experiences were offered to me through my time in the Boy Scouts. After such a complete nourishing process, we can’t help but wonder, where does the current educative system plan to offer such experiences to the student? Why are these competences left aside and ignored, entirely forgetting their importance in the development of the human being?

It is necessary at this point to address the nature of the environment of such educational process. We are talking here about an educative process because every accomplished experience leaves a lesson. However, the fluidity of this learning process is so natural that it’s difficult to call it an educational process itself. There are contents, subjects that must be learned as knowledge and tests to test them as in school. But where does architecture appear, and what benefit could it offer to an education so tightly linked, precisely, with the outdoor life, with life in nature? Does architecture have any saying at all in this type of discussion, or is it once again a subject that simply does not concerns it and to which no answer can be given? Can we talk about architecture, in a model that specifically gets rid of built limits?

II.D – Architecture and outdoor education.

My personal opinion regarding the questions of the last two segments is the following. Architecture is born exactly at the same moment the human being is born. Since the existence of the human being on the surface of the earth, architecture has been present to accommodate him in his context, to transmit a message to him, at to ease him into the activity he’s performing. Since the colossal Greek constructions worthy of Gods, to the roman forum and its capacity to host and nurture the discussions that would forge the political power of the great Roman Empire, the architecture has been at the hand of the human because it concerns the entirety of the physical space that surrounds human activity. Carlos Raul Villanueva, emblematic Venezuelan architect and designer of the UCV, says the following regarding the subject: “Architecture is a social act by excellence, an utilitarian art, it’s a projection of life itself, linked to economic and social issues, and not only to esthetical codes. (…) for Architecture, the most important isn’t the form, its most important mission is to resolve human situations.” 3 This entire affirmation sounds perhaps a little utopic and ambitious?

Is modifying the educative model a subject of architecture? Is the ability to modify what happens inside the classroom truly a matter that concerns it? And furthermore, is the classroom, the walls, the building, truly the best environment for education?

Where does architecture appear, and what benefit could it offer to an education so tightly linked, precisely, with the outdoor life, with life in nature? Does architecture have any saying at all in this type of discussion, or is it once again a subject that simply does not concerns it and to which no answer can be given? Can we talk about architecture, in a model that specifically gets rid of built limits?

We are now going to develop a referent that answers affirmatively to all these questions, found throughout the last two redacted segments.

Takaharu Tezuka is a Japanese architect that came to the Cité de l’Architecture in Paris on Monday April 4th, 2016, to present a conference of his projects and his way to see architecture that had the chance to assist to. In the exposition, he presented a project that he has also made a TEDx Talk about, in Kyoto, available online5. The project is a kindergarten in Tokyo, the first Montessori school in Japan. The architect describes the architecture of this school in a very explicit and simple way: “This kindergarten is entirely open, almost all year long. There’s no barrier between outside and inside, which means that this

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Kindergarten of the architect Takaharu Tezuka at Japan.

architecture is, basically, a roof”. 4

The concept for this school is born, the architect explains, from the idea of having and infinite surface allowing kids to run it as much as they wanted to. The project becomes a huge ellipse which hosts the courses beneath it. The director wanted to have a great structure without any sort of barrier. Being only one floor tall, the law forbade it, but the use of very thin tubes for the barrier conveyed a very similar image of openness, almost imperceptible with the context. The roof is as low as possible, in order to allow children to make a visual relation with what’s happening above them. Some trees cut through the roof, and in these occasions, the roof opens itself to allow the passing of branches, even extending a net from the border of the structure to the tree itself for kids to fall on it and jump into it, getting to the tree and usually climbing it. The architect continues explaining: “There are no frontiers at all among courses themselves, so there is no acoustic protection either… the Principal says that if a kid wants to leave the classroom, they allow him to leave. He will come back, since the school it’s a circle, he will come back…”

This last phrase explains the way a Montessori school works. The Italian pedagogue Maria Montessori was first a doctor. As a pedagogue, she studied for 50 years the kids of very disadvantaged social and cultural backgrounds and with difficulties to learn. She became interested to “abnormal” children who gave her the occasion to test her teaching method, which she retook and generalized to be used with “normal” children.

“To substitute the child in his formative actions with the great intention of helping him, is not what he requires. This substitution, instead of being helpful, becomes in the contrary an obstacle for the development of the child. We have to allow him to act freely, from his own initiative, in an environment that has to be foreseen to answer to the child needs. We have to be nonetheless highly perspicuous regarding the notion of liberty. Freedom doesn’t mean to be able to do as they please when they want: it means rather to be capable of satisfying his vital needs without depending on the direct help from others” –Quote from Maria Montessori. 5

“Listen to the child!” was the premise of Madame Montessori. In this kindergarten, classes aren’t given in a strict way with schedules that would mean obligation. The child choses to engage in the activity where he feels like investing his time, and it’s the teacher who has to adapt himself to the requirements of the child. Following this model, we redeem an architecture, which, like the professor, adapts the educative model and doesn’t offer classrooms arranged for a forcedly imparted education. Instead, the model demands education to adapt itself to the student, the human being. It demands education to get rid of schedules and subject summaries and its standards to listen to the student, and to provide an environment at his disposition, not the other way around.

“On the other hand, we believe that noise is very important. In this kindergarten, children show amazing levels of concentration. You know, our species grew in the forest with noises. You know, you can talk to you friend in a noisy bar, you are not supposed to rest in silence. You must know that, you can ski at under 20° Celsius in the winter. In the summer, you go swimming, the sand is at 50° Celsius. And you must know that you are impermeable! You do not crumble when it rains. So children, they are supposed to be outside!”

The architect goes on to shown the last drawing, where they recorded the path of one kid from 9:10 am to 9:30 am. The circunference of the building makes 183 metters. This kid, ran 6000 meters that morning. The kids in this kindergarten run 4000 meters in average, which gives them better athletics capacities among other schools.

“From our days, kids are in need of a dose of danger. In these sort of situations, they learn to help each other. It’s society. These are the sort of occasions that we miss from our contemporaneity” The architect refers here to an annex that can be found at a few meters from the main building. A playful structure that is made at the size of the child. It is 5 meters high and it is divided in 7 floors. The architect tells the story of how he let his kids run along the structure and one of them bumped his head while doing it. “There’s no need to control them, it is not good to protect them too much, they need to fall at times, and they need to hurt themselves. That teaches them to live in this world”. We also regard very enthusiastically the relation between construction and nature in the annex. The architecture is not only projected in such a way that is close to its user, it is made precisely at the scale of the child. From an adult perspective it even almost disappears to mix itself with the tree around of which it is built. We find in this example an inseparable link between education and building. We answer, therefore, to questions about the Scout Movement.

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III. Development of References. “Architecture and educational success”

To finish the arguments, we are going to quote the book «Scholar Architecture and educative success” (Architecture scolaire et réussite educative 6) redacted by the Centers of Training to Methodes of Active Education (Centres d’Entraînement aux Méthodes d’Éducation Active, CEMÉA by its French syllables) under the direction of Maurice Mazalto. The CEMÉA are a French experience that have the following project as a goal: “to endeavor into changing the school with its actors through the sensitization of teachers and professors to methods requiring more activity and promoting the experience of the child through highly thought interventions in order to allow success”. Due to the precision of the wording from the ideas expressed, we are only going to translate a few extracts from Zahra Boudjémaï, Director of the political and educative practices department of the CEMEA:

“Linking architecture and educational success isn’t evident. We could even believe that no interaction exists between the locals and the spaces that host the students, and the success of their studies. However, nothing is less true; we can, for example, verify the effects produced by architecture in a detention center or in a medical one. Beyond the architectural creation made to be seen from the exterior, we understand the particular attention that provokes each internal space to serve the functioning of the entire building. Why would it be any different to scholarly construction?

(…) It seemed (then) to us indispensable to reunite the parties concerned -community leaders, architects, researchers, directives of the scholar establishments-, to listen to the different approaches and the points of view, but also to take into account the perspectives of the future of the school, in order to achieve the development of milestones to create scholar establishments of quality, as described by the researcher Marie-Claude Derouet-Beeson. It is logical that the word be given, through the different missions assigned to the school, to the pedagogic users, usually excluded from the common reflection; they express their quotidian reality trying to influence in the places that host them. We have also listened carefully to the particular opinions of students, opinions that express, as a “long calm river”, the importance of the places that receive the first meetings and the first emotions, or the first rebellions… the students that develop an unexpected feeling of ownership with their hutch and speak about it with a relentless nostalgia, many years after having quitting it.

(…) It seems therefor evident that scholar architecture and educative success maintain straight links, at times hidden, which convene to be updated knowing that we can act regardless of the place we occupy; (…) We will be able to realize that an educative construction of quality, adapted to its function, could favor the creation of a climate propitious to the success of a bigger number of students. The different actors that intervene in the construction or renovation have then a huge responsibility, especially since the school is, more than ever, in charge of the future.”

With this book, we would like to accentuate the fact that these sort of reflections are a lot closer and conceivable than we believe. Céline Alvares represents another personality, situated also in Paris, who has already set in motion project that received the approval from the Ministry of Culture and Education, to offer a different way of learning to the kids of CM2 (9 to 11 years old). Also in a TED conference, she points out the way cognitive sciences explain that attention, active engagement and the information feedback are essentials for an educative model that assures the success of the student. 7

Many subjects remain untouched. If the study path of referents and personal experiences made us concentrate on the education of children, this could be due to the contrast in influence which exists between the building and the child, the teenager and the adult. We haven’t been able to develop this study throughout each level of education because we stumble into a limitation of treating such a vast subject. Nevertheless, I have focused on the child and the critical impact that education has in him, and this is going to be justified with an extract of a short fable from the Argentinian psychiatrist, psychotherapist and writer Jorge Bucay. 8

The story is called the chained elephant:

“When I was small, I used to love circuses, and what I liked best about them were the animals. The elephant in particular caught my attention, and as I later found out, other children liked the elephant too. During the performance, this enormous beast would nobly display its tremendous weight, size, and strength… But after its performance, and until just before it went out on stage, the elephant was always tied down with a chain to a little stake in the ground that held one of its feet.

The stake however was just a minuscule piece of wood, hardly a couple of centimeters long. And although it was a strong thick chain, it seemed obvious to me that an animal capable of tearing a tree from its roots, could easily free itself from that stake and flee.

This mystery continued to puzzle me. What held it there? Why didn’t it escape? When I was 5 or 6, I still trusted the explanations given by grownups. So, I asked my teacher, my father, and my uncle about the mystery of the elephant. One of them explained that the elephant didn’t escape because it had been mastered.

So I asked the obvious question: “If it’s been mastered, why do they keep it in chains?”

I don’t remember having received a coherent answer. With time I forgot about the mystery of the elephant, I only remembered when I found others who had asked themselves the same question at some time.

Years later, I discovered that, to my luck, someone had been sufficiently wise to come up with the answer:

The circus elephant does not escape because it has been attached to a stake just like this one since it was very, very small.

I closed my eyes and imagined a defenseless baby elephant fastened to the stake. I am sure that in that moment, the little guy pushed and pulled and tired himself out trying to get himself free. And, regardless of his efforts, he couldn’t do it, because the stake was too strong for him.

I imagined him tuckering himself out and falling asleep and the next day trying again, and the next day, and the next. Until one day, a terrible day in his history, the animal accepted its futility and resigned itself to its fate.


  1. PLATON, 380 before J.-C. The Republic Book VII, translated by Benjamin Jowett : http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.8.vii.html (revised on 09/17/2016)

  2. EULAM Producciones, 2012.La Educacion Prohibida (The Forbidden Education), Argentinian documentary, source : www.laeducacionprohibida.com, seen the 05/02/2016

  3. NEUFERT, Ernst, 1956. Arte de Proyectar en Arquitectura (Architect’s Data), Barcelona, Ediciones Gustavo Gili, S.A. Seventh Edition, p. 142

  4. TEZUKA, Takaharu, September 2014. The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen. Conference at TEDx Kyoto, Japan.

  5. MONTESSORI, Maria. Quote. Source : http://montessori-france.asso.fr/la-pedagogie- montessori-2/approche-montessori/

  6. MAZALTO, Maurice (dir.), Janvier 2008. Architecture scolaire et réussite éducative en partenariat avec les Centres d’Entraînement aux Méthodes d’Éducation Active, Paris, pages 11-13.

  7. Alternatives model exist, architecture only has to encourage them.

    Conclusion

    Can architecture stop adapting to the educative model of occident, with its anachronic roots in Prussia and the industrial revolution, to instead adapt such a model to an architecture that gets closer to the individual, to the student, the human being that inhabits it? In other words, in a context where architecture adapts itself to the programmatic requirements of investors and concourses, how could this all work, inversed?

    A system is already stablished. Classrooms for 40 students per teacher, amphitheaters of 300 students by speaker. The governments, in charge of public education, launch the concourse with these specificities. How can we overcome these requirements implanted by the political authorities? Is it truly a matter of architecture to try to shake this stablished order?

    I consider this perspective very specific to the actual role of the architect in society, limited by the constraint of accomplishing the investor’s dream, he who holds the funds to effectuate the project. This essay has answered, with the development of only one example among many others in the world (due to the synthesis needs of the text), that the possibility for a different model exists. Architecture can offer a different answer to what’s required by the investor. I understand that several variables may seem overlooked in the development of this article. Variables, such as the constraint of financing. It was tried instead not to fall into the investor-architect or financing-project dilemma, it was used as an example a Montessori school, which is itself a different educative model. The interest is not to go into the debate of architects telling clients how, what to build.

    The goal is to demonstrate how architecture offers in this example an absolutely different approach to education. The kindergarten doesn’t have one classroom, nor chairs or blackboards for teachers. It contains a roof to offer kids an open space to run, which houses beneath the organization of different spaces delimited for the voluntary engagement into learning. And precisely, due to the arrangement of this elements in such way, it is a Montessori school that inhabits this school, not a school from the ordinary educative model. The educative model proofs then, to have been adapted.

    My objective is to demonstrate that the contrary example to the most common already exists, and it’s simply a matter of diffusion, propagation, expansion, for an architectural example that has already proved its validity to finally change the educative model. We could fall again into the same debate: do we then need an investor or financer who desires a Montessori school to design this sort of school?

    My last thought on the subject is as follows: To accomplish the shift and begin to talk about masses, not minorities, about generalities and not specificities, a bigger number of architects need to engage in the competitions that exist for schools of alternatives models. The goal would then be to have a social conglomerate that would begin to give much more attention to these sort of projects, and then the voter of the occidental democratic world will begin asking his Ministry of Education and politicians educative projects as the one from this or that other school.

    « I think that architecture is capable of changing the world. And this one (Montessori Kindergarten at Japan) is one attempt to change the life of children. [footnote]TEZUKA, Takaharu, September 2014. The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen. Conference at TEDx Kyoto, Japan.

  8. BUCAY, Jorge, 2008. El elefante encadenado (The Chained Elephant). RBA LIBROS.

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