Lessons from Kindergarten: Reassembling Froebel's Architectural Legacy

Hugo Harvey

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1:100 scale model of Ferndale Kindergarten reimagined (looking south across the main playing green)

Kindergarten is both a time and a space where children develop key facets of self outside of the familial domestic sphere. It is a threshold where a delicate balance of guidance through intervention, interaction and individuation through the medium of play is vital to establishing a fulfilling sense of purpose and development within each child. A child learns from both social interactions with their teachers, guardians and each other, and the shared and individual interactions with their environment.

How can architects prepare children for the future?

Drawing from these considerations, this thesis situates itself as an architectural-educational driven framework for early childhood education design, illustrating the findings through the reimagining of Ferndale Kindergarten.

"The play of children is not recreation; it means earnest work. Play is the purest intellectual production of the human being, in this stage … for the whole man is visible in them, in his finest capacities, in his innermost being."

Friedrich Froebel
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1:100 scale model of Ferndale Kindergarten, reimagined
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Scale component 'building blocks'; decking, skylight, bay windows, sliding doors, shelving, island.
While approaches to child psychology, pedagogy and methods of funding have evolved fluidly over time, kindergartens remain comparatively static. Many Early Childhood Education (ECE) centres in Auckland, originally villas or bungalows, were not explicitly designed with children in mind. Consequently, kindergartens face pressure to meet the demands of an increasing population and a changing parental working culture.
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If we acknowledge that the physical environment mediates or otherwise accommodates experiential learning, an architect must accept the responsibility to critically reassess the implications of the space and what it teaches, not just for the children, but for their parents and communities as well.
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Site Plan November

While healthy play is in progress, essential developmental qualities begin to emerge: movement, change, alternation, succession, association and separation.

From these ideas, we can draw parallels between the qualities of aesthetics and play, particularly through terms commonly used to describe beauty: tension, poise, balance, contrast, variation, solution and resolution. It is no coincidence that these values emerge too as architectural ideals, and assuming the belief that the act of design is a form of play, healthy designs should also exemplify these qualities.

Prospectively, we must imagine the entire prospective kindergarten as a ‘playground’, or at least entertain the idea that play can occur at any time or any place within the kindergarten; that the kindergarten itself simply must provide opportunities and materials that may enhance the play experience of the children as they explore, construct and pursue their own meanings in everyday situations.

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Form And Sections3
Development sketches made from the rearranging of wooden building blocks, formulating components at various scales.
Legacy Diagram
Delving into the multi-generational legacy of Friedrich Froebel, the author intends to test the relevance of kindergartens' founding virtues through critical inspection of built and theoretical works in the field of contemporary early childhood education architecture.