Classrooms are arranged around an indoor rainforest. Porthole windows which look like googly eyes peering out from lumpy, butter-colored walls. Zigzagging roofs and soaring archways.
If this mind-bending vision sounds like something that might have been dreamed up by school pupils, that’s because it was – and now those dreams have become reality in the eccentric, off-kilter shape of Madrid’s Reggio school (main picture).
Designed by Spanish architect Andrés Jaque, the Reggio’s radical construction not only brings nature indoors, but also encourages plant and animal life to colonize its ‘living’ exterior walls.
Clad in an insulating mixture of mashed cork, it offers an ideal habitat, not unlike the surface of a tree, for fungi, insects and microbial life.
Classrooms look out onto gardens – some inaccessible to humans – created by ecologists to attract birds, butterflies, bats and bees. Inside, a courtyard hosts the miniature temperate rainforest which rises two stores to the glass canopy above. Labs and workshops are arranged around its edges.
The school’s design is a living embodiment of the radical Reggio-Emilia method, an educational philosophy developed in postwar Italy. It sees children not as empty vessels to be filled with education, but active participants in defining their own curriculum.
Architectural environments can arouse in children a desire for exploration and inquiry
Experience – touching, listening and first-hand discovery – lie at the heart of the learning process. Connection with the outdoors is key and the physical environment is imagined as the ‘third teacher’, with spaces configured to encourage open-ended exploration.
Jaque, who has built a reputation for quirky and mischievous projects through his architecture studio the Office for Political Innovation, spent two years quizzing students and teachers to come up with his designs. Ultimately he said he based it on the idea that “architectural environments can arouse in children a desire for exploration and inquiry.”
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