The world certainly looks different through the eyes of a young child; enormous, intriguing, and somewhat overwhelming, and it has long been believed that what we encounter as children shapes our perspective of the world. When asked about his childhood memories in Switzerland, Peter Zumthor shared that the memories of his youth contain the deepest architectural experience, which has become reservoirs of the architectural atmospheres and images that he explores in his work as an architect today.
Having a complete understanding of how children change and grow physically and psychologically throughout their childhood requires an in-depth observation of different factors, such as their hereditary traits and genetics, the interactions they have with other children and adults, as well as the environment they are living, playing, and learning in. In celebration of World Children’s Day on November 20th, we look at how architects and designers stimulated children's autonomy and promoted their mental and physical well-being through architecture and interior design.
Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator, began to develop her educational method at the beginning of the 20th century. The famed Montessori pedagogy provides techniques and methods that contribute to the healthy development of children by setting up an environment that caters to their physical and mental well-being and stimulates their autonomy, self-esteem, and socialization skills.
The method tackles three pillars: the child, the conscious adult, and the prepared environment, all joined together and codependent on one another. This implies that a conscious adult who is well knowledgeable of child development is required to design the environment, one that is calm, peaceful, patient, welcoming, harmonious, and respectful for both the children and adults equally. With that being said, most architects started with the bedroom since it is where the child spends most of their time, and created spaces that follow through with the Montessori methodology, combined with other kid-friendly architectural features.
Safety is perhaps one of the topmost priorities when designing children's spaces, and one of the most dangerous features is sharp edges and angles, especially when they're aligned with kids' eye levels or near their heads, hands, and legs. To avoid having to add protective extensions or stickers on the corners of furniture pieces, designers have resorted to designing curved forms with rounded and/or smoothed edges. In terms of aesthetics, curved silhouettes give spaces a young, fun, and modern look that "takes us back to our childhood" as explained in ArchDaily's 2020 Interior Design Trends.
Safe Materials and Fit-outs
It is very critical to keep kids zones bacteria-free, which is why parents often prefer to have surfaces that are easy to clean, harsh-chemicals free, and not prone to housing small insects, such as antibacterial glossy or semi-glossy surfaces, microfiber, or vinyl. In terms of fit-outs, interior designers have replaced handles and knobs on drawers and cabinets in kitchens and bedrooms with invisible hardware, ranging from magnetic push latches to integrated handles with concealed beveled edges. Initially, the objective was to have a minimal space with a seamless and sleek look, but designers found them to be appropriate and safe for kids' furniture as well.
In his seminal text Towards a New Architecture, Le Corbusier stated that "a man looks at the creation of architecture with his eyes, which are 5 feet 6 inches from the ground” and not from the standpoint of a young child’s eyes, which are on average, about 3 feet 6 inches from the ground. Interior spaces built for children should be scaled down to match their height and spatial needs so that they can move around and interact with the space without the intervention or help of an adult. In addition, being in smaller-scaled spaces removes the feeling of being overpowered by regular-sized rooms and furniture pieces, allowing kids to feel more safe and unrestrained.
Interactive Spaces that Promote Physical Activity
To further promote healthy physical and mental growth, architects have designed spaces that enable natural creativity and freedom of playing and exploring, whether it's through stacked geometric structures or built-in games and entertainment since kids learn best through physical engagement in the form of games or physical exercises. While some parents prefer to refrain from using digital screens and technology at such a young age, others like to engage their children early on through interactive screens built into their playrooms.
Surfaces that Enable the Use of Senses
In addition to the digital screens mentioned above, the use of textured surfaces has proved to further enhance children's sensory receptors. Surfaces that create sound with friction or change colors help stimulate kids' senses. The same can be said for chalk or whiteboards, which help children improve their motor skills through drawing and painting. Mirrors, for instance, stimulate children’s recognition of their own body and face, and help them learn how to identify facial expressions and emotions.
Accessibility and Adaptability
One of the most important characteristics of child-oriented architecture is child-only features, allowing them to rely solely on themselves. Similar to scale, accessible architecture gives room for children to explore and navigate the space themselves, however, no child is the same, and each age group has a different set of spatial needs. This is why it is recommended that spaces be flexible, evolving in parallel to children's growth.
Openness to the Outdoors
Children are not meant to be confined to one particular space; It is at this age that they get to use all their senses to explore the world around them. Taking into account the importance of the outdoors, architects incorporated access to nature through direct sunlight, extended landscapes from the outdoors, or water features. Projects built on the ground floor benefit from direct access to adjacent landscapes, giving children room to be out in the open.
According to the Montessori method, having a lot of colors and textures in the same environment can cause confusion and irritation for children, especially those in the younger age spectrum. Therefore, the method recommends selecting very few options to facilitate the development of decision-making capacities.
Find more interiors designed for children in this My ArchDaily folder created by the author.
This article is part of an ArchDaily series that explores features of interior architecture, from our own database of projects. Every month, we will highlight how architects and designers are utilizing new elements, new characteristics, and new signatures in interior spaces around the world. As always, at ArchDaily, we highly appreciate the input of our readers. If you think we should mention specific ideas, please submit your suggestions.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 17, 2021.