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How to Design Schools and Interiors Based on Waldorf Pedagogy

How to Design Schools and Interiors Based on Waldorf Pedagogy

Introduced by Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf pedagogy draws on the principles of anthroposophical philosophy. One of the theory's foundational characteristics is its holistic approach to the human being: feelings, imagination, spirit, and intellect are considered unique to every individual, and thoughts, feelings, and actions are understood to always be linked.

Thus, the focus of the philosophy is to cultivate individuals who are capable of relating both to themselves and to society (inter and intrapersonal intelligence) - fundamental skills for overcoming the challenges of the 21st century. This kind of learning takes place in schools that follow Steiner's method, introducing families to the school environment and bringing them into the community. Below, we review the operations and implications of this pedagogy. 

Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam After-School Care Centre Waldorf School / MONO Architekten. Image © Gregor Schmidt Marecollege / 24H Architecture. Image Cortesia de Boris Zeisser Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture. Image © Adrià Goula + 19

Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam
Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam

According to anthroposophical philosophy, human development can be subdivided into stages occurring every seven years. These stages are described as such:

  • 0 to 7 years: Need for development through freedom of movement and exploration of the environment. This seven-year period is considered one of the most important because it contains some of the greatest milestones that every human being will achieve: upright posture (when walking), communication (with speech), and self-understanding (when the child begins to refer to themselves with the pronoun "I"). The Waldorf classrooms that house the activities of the youngest children seek to reproduce the atmosphere of a home, functioning as an extension of it. In these spaces, different age groups relate to each other like siblings, subconsciously educating one other.
  • 7 to 14 years: Need for development through emotions, creativity, and feelings. Arts and crafts contribute greatly to this increased search for sensitivity.
  • 14 to 21 years: The individual is mature and ready to use their mental and moral abilities. At this stage, they are theoretically capable of developing more abstract and complex thoughts.

Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam
Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam

Like the Waldorf pedagogy, which follows the principles of anthroposophy, the architecture of the buildings that house this type of school must also follow its philosophy. Therefore, anthroposophical architects propose some parameters that can be identified in most Waldorf schools. Its spaces must be capable of delivering a totalizing experience of education, and the interior settings must be adequate for each activity carried out (craft classes, sculpture, carpentry, and many others). They must also be consistent with the age and development cycle of the children who occupy them.

Marecollege / 24H Architecture. Image © Gregor Schmidt
Marecollege / 24H Architecture. Image © Gregor Schmidt

Comfort

For the first seven years, it is considered essential that the child is at home, in direct contact with their family and domestic activities. For this reason, classrooms dedicated to this age group seek to offer a homey, welcoming, safe, and stimulating environment. The use of designated corners for certain activities within larger environments is very common. For example, a large classroom includes a corner to prepare and consume meals, or areas to rest and play. The idea behind this spatial organization is that the child will feel safer occupying these smaller spaces. The classroom, with its homey atmosphere, becomes a metaphor for the home and in turn, the school represents the external community.

Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture. Image © Adrià Goula
Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture. Image © Adrià Goula

Harmony Between the Arts

Rudolf Steiner believed that architecture was the integration of all types of art. Thus, the aesthetic portion of education is considered an important part of his theory. It is very common to find, in environments that follow Waldorf pedagogy, spaces that exhibit artworks developed by students.

Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam
Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam

Rhythmic Elements

Music is also an art very present in a Waldorf environment. It appears in architecture through the repetition of elements such as frames or pillars.

Marecollege / 24H Architecture. Image Cortesia de Boris Zeisser
Marecollege / 24H Architecture. Image Cortesia de Boris Zeisser

Nature, Inside and Outside

The connection (direct or indirect) with nature is considered highly beneficial for the psycho-emotional health of children and is often presented as the material for different school activities, incorporating pine cones, seeds, branches, shells, stones, roots, and other natural elements. There's even a recommendation against the use of plastic objects and traditional toys. Outdoor spaces seek to include areas of earth or sand, as well as a large amount of vegetation (planted directly in the ground or in pots). Treehouses are also very welcome.

Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture. Image © Adrià Goula
Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture. Image © Adrià Goula
Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam
Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam

The use of natural building materials and claddings is recommended. The classrooms should also open to a central green area, where children can move freely. Considering it a space intended for children, the window sill must be placed at a lower height than is conventionally recommended to allow the outdoor greenery to be visible to the children. 

Marecollege / 24H Architecture. Image Cortesia de Boris Zeisser
Marecollege / 24H Architecture. Image Cortesia de Boris Zeisser

Natural Lighting

The Waldorf pedagogy is a philosophy that values all the benefits that contact with nature can offer human beings. For this reason, natural lighting is also highly valued in its schools. Depending on the activities that will be carried out in its different spaces, however, it is possible to vary the entry of natural light, producing infinite possibilities for interior atmospheres.

Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture. Image © Adrià Goula
Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture. Image © Adrià Goula

Color 

The Waldorf pedagogy places heavy importance on the use of colors. A specific palette is recommended for each age group according to the level of maturity of the children. The younger children's classrooms use primarily warm and light colors (especially reddish and orange) and are related to active and festive activities, more present in the daily life of this age group. Cold tones (bluish and greenish) are recommended for mid-aged students, associated with activities that require a higher level of concentration and focus. Unlike other methodologies (such as Montessori, for example), strong contrasts (such as black and white) are recommended for older children, as they are often related to abstract shapes. On the walls, painting generally follows a specific technique developed by Steiner called "Lazure" which aims to make them more vivid and less opaque.

Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam
Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam

These last three characteristics combined - connection with nature, natural lighting, and the use of color - are directly related to the importance of sensory experiences in human development. Together, they are believed to create a physical learning environment that is safe and capable of fully cultivating children's creative potential.

Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture
Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture

Flexibility

As the activities developed by the Waldorf philosophy are very dynamic, it is essential that the composition of the interiors be very flexible, creating a living and active environment. There exist several common solutions to this necessity. Tables and chairs should be light so they can be easily removed. Uncovered courtyards can function as theatrical settings. Covered multi-sport courts can be used to celebrate the various festivities present in the Waldorf curriculum.

Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture
Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture
Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam
Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam

Geometric Perception

According to anthroposophical thinking, progressive transformations of geometric shapes in classrooms - as the age groups change - are very important. Therefore, it is common to see:

  • Unconventional geometric shapes of frames.
  • Formal variations in the vertical (walls) and horizontal (floors and ceilings) planes.
  • Trapezoidal shaped plants.

Freedom is an important concept in this pedagogy. Steiner defended the use of divergent walls because, in his opinion, they are able to democratize the appearance of the user in the environment (convergent walls tend to direct), freeing their movements and their focus of attention. Therefore, many schools choose a trapezoidal shape for its divergent walls.

Axonometric. After-School Care Centre Waldorf School / MONO Architekten. Image via MONO Architekten
Axonometric. After-School Care Centre Waldorf School / MONO Architekten. Image via MONO Architekten

Each classroom (divided by age group) has a recommended format so that geometric transformations can follow the internal development of children. In the early years, classrooms have a predominantly organic design. Little by little, the angle is introduced and the classrooms become more elongated. Therefore, anything that has more rounded lines, is unified, and is predominantly lighter, is usually designated for preschool students. Over the years, everything becomes firmer, more articulate, and angular. This strategy has the subconscious objective of guiding the child's understanding of the concept of forms, developing a deeper aesthetic sense.

Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam
Yellow Train School / Biome Environmental Solutions. Image © Vivek Muthuramalingam

The architectural elements of a Waldorf school are almost always an active part of the learning and development process of its children. In tandem with other curricular activities, Waldorf pedagogy proposes to work on concepts such as the metamorphosis of form, colors, and geometry in the most complete way possible, giving children the freedom to fully perceive and explore different environments.

After-School Care Centre Waldorf School / MONO Architekten. Image © Gregor Schmidt
After-School Care Centre Waldorf School / MONO Architekten. Image © Gregor Schmidt

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About this author
Cite: Migliani, Audrey. "How to Design Schools and Interiors Based on Waldorf Pedagogy" [Como projetar escolas e interiores baseados na pedagogia Waldorf] 25 Mar 2020. ArchDaily. (Trans. Franco, José Tomás) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/935990/how-to-design-schools-and-interiors-based-on-waldorf-pedagogy/> ISSN 0719-8884
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Escola El Til·ler / Eduard Balcells + Tigges Architekt + Ignasi Rius Architecture. Image © Adrià Goula

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