Popularized internationally throughout the 20th century, the Montessori method of education champions independent, student-driven learning. In lieu of standardized grades and assignments, the philosophy emphasizes student freedom, uninterrupted work and mixed-age milieus. For Prague-based No Architects, it’s a pedagogy that also drives corresponding design principles — as espoused by the studio’s newly completed Astra Kindergarten.
Just outside of Prague, the small Bohemian town of Klecany is home to an early childhood school tailor-made for Montessori. The 356-square-metre building announces itself in a crisp white array of volumes emanating from a central core, hinting at the unique spaces within. Organized as a series of active spaces — ranging from a workbench to a full kitchen — the school’s nodes are open invitations to explore a variety of environments.
Inside, the child-sized spaces are flexibly designed to host a range of learning environments. While the generous central space can comfortably accommodate a traditional classroom configuration when needed, the room’s truest function is as a sociable conduit between the diversity of surrounding activities.
An interplay of smooth curves and sharp angles defines the simple interiors, with an artful — and almost chaotic — cluster of lighting strips stretching across the ceiling. It’s a bold gesture, and one that might overwhelm its surroundings in another context. Fortunately, No Architects elegantly pair exuberance with restraint, balancing the erratic geometry with streamlined punched windows and a palette of clean surfaces and simple finishes.
A combination of light grey and blonde wood fixtures frames the interiors, with the furnishings providing ample storage for everything from coats and shoes to soft mats, books, toys and games.
A motif of triangular shapes accents the cupboards, with the geometric theme continued by playful wall decorations. Hinting at animal shapes, the swan, fox, bear et al. give individual spaces a distinct identity, creating natural muster points in an otherwise open environment.
In the garden, the building’s disparate volumes foster an interplay of open and semi-enclosed outdoor spaces. Catering to both group learning and quieter play, the ring of green that frames the school mirrors the richly varied spaces inside. In the smaller nooks, sand and gravel await, inviting children to make their own marks on the building’s peripheries. Here, the rounded crevices also convey young eyes to gaze up in wonder and (one can hope) in architectural fascination.
North of Prague, No Architects unveils a kindergarten designed to encourage independent learning.