Toronto Montessori School – Bayview Campus
Process: At the outset of the design of the new addition to the school, consisting of a main entrance, common space and support areas, we spent substantive time, before starting the design, discussing with the client what their pedagogical values were towards their students and families of their community, which as a Montessori school, were well formed and articulated.
Two core Montessori values are that learning through materials, and the way in which the teacher and the design of the environment promote children’s self-directed engagement with those materials. Dr. Montessori also believed that each child has an innate love for nature, and the materials used to engage with are a set of manipulable objects designed to support children’s learning of sensorial concepts such as dimension, colour, shape and texture, and academic concepts of mathematics, literacy, science, geography and history; most of which are reflected in natural shapes and natural fractal patterns and forms. With respect to engagement, a child learns through engaging hands-on with the materials.
Overlaid on this are the values of creating a sense of support the feeling of activating resources of a student, qualities that could be described as: that which feels variable and manifold (while being not overstimulating at the same time), abundant in its enacting resonances and with positive ambiguity: encouraging active involvement and exploring, co-creative interaction and the experience of self-efficacy; which feels vital and engaging, internally and externally connecting with life- energies and the awareness of one’s own body in space; which offers an optimistic, assurrant and encouraging attitude; and which one can sense occurring in the atmospheric quality of resonating energies, with a perceivable presence, sensibly appreciable.
In salutogenic terms, this is about a sense of coherence, for a student who has a high sense of comprehensibility and can imagine a positive future; manageability where one believes they have all the resources to meet the given challenges and demands; and meaningfulness which motivates someone to continue on the path they are traveling, their studies.
From a psychological perspective, the characteristics are of one feels variable and manifold, feelings of vital and engaging, and a sense of being optimistic; and a sense occurring in the atmospheric of appreciable.
In terms of architectural characteristics, they reflect qualities of space that are of: nature, variety and vitality, sense of occurrence, optimism; and generosity.
The building in plan is designed as a soft semi-circular form, concave towards your approach, north facing, which creates and wraps a new half circular garden plaza area in front of the building, of which you pass through on winding paths, from the parking lot, to arrive at the main entrance. The concave building face is edged by a one story lower colonnaded veranda-like space, creating cover and seating areas.
The section of the building is lower to the north, where you enter, with the roof hovering a foot above the wall, creating a break in the wall roof connection allowing a narrow-unencumbered view to the sky beyond. The roof then slopes noticeably upwards towards the south and an exterior fern and multi-stemmed birch tree grove courtyard separating the new building from the existing.
While semi-circular in plan, the ceiling is supported by large semicircular wood arches, radially positioned along the length of the space, leaping from side to side, with the sloped ceiling balanced on the top centre edge of the arches.
From third points along the length of the arches, secondary straight beams spring outwards in triangular patterns towards the secondary beams in the roof plane, creating a spark-like connection point to the arch. All structural elements are wood, with all steel connections concealed.
The southern convex wall of the space is a mix of floor to ceiling glass, fine triangular interior wood brise soleil grillage and large triangular green sail-like solid forms, all appearing to thrust out wards to the garden and upwards to the sun beyond.
The southern wall and glazing, mixed with the triangular wood brise soleil, and a curved plan, paired with changing seasonal and daily everchanging light conditions, creates a moody and ever-changing light and shadow conditions in the space, something that feels alive, sometimes subtle and subdued, through to celebratory and spiritual.
The mixing of circular and triangular shapes, along a radial plan, allows one to see the same arches, but seen from different visual perspectives at the same point within the space. This, paired with the mixing of circular and triangular shapes, creates a perceptual positive ambiguity, which stimulates the mind as it traces the sharp corner of the triangles and the voluminous edges of the curves. This is pushed further by the use of the nature smooth surfaces of the wood, with the rough surface which is the main rectilinear element positioned at the end of the space diagonally from the main entrance.
The architectural qualities of, nature, variety and vitality, sense of occurrence, optimism; and generosity are a constructed reflection of the clients pedagogical values.
Recognitions: Canada Wood Council – National Design Award; Canada Wood Council – Ontario Wood Works Mass Timber Design Award, 2021