An Organic Structure

Project: Waldorf School Casa de las Estrellas, Playa Garza, Nosara, Costa Rica Architects: Salagnac Arquitectos, Costa Rica

The Waldorf school pedagogy seeks to provide education that enables children to become free human beings, and to help children embody their ‘developing spiritual identity’, carried from the preceding spiritual existence, as beings of body, soul and spirit in this life. Taking into account this educational conception, the main challenge as architects of this project was to capture through architecture the concept of Waldorf education in a tangible way. The architects started to investigate educational and architectural concepts according to the Waldorf education conception and found that schools often have a striking architecture, to achieve a more fluid feeling, and less closed in space. The walls are often curved and painted in subtle colours, often with a lazure technique, and including texture surfaces and natural materials.

As a starting point, the context where the new school would be located was also just as important. The land for this school is located on the seashore with a magnificent white sand beach in front, and surrounded by primary tropical forests with large aged trees.

With this context, which is so rich in its natural diversity, the architects took the idea that the context and the built work should be a complement to each other; they wanted to adapt the architecture to the site, and cause the least possible impact to the environment to maintain harmony in the place and that nature is confined with the architectural project.

The general architectural ensemble of the project was composed of the spaces that the project should comprise, according to the guidelines of its founders and pedagogical team. An elongated development was opted that would focus its main view parallel to the sea to take advantage of the sea breeze, the morning light and the adaptation to the topography.

The designers lean towards a location of separate modules to have that feeling of fluidity towards the outside from the built spaces, also based on the conceptions of Waldorf education it was decided to separate the different modules to be able to emphasize the different academic spaces according to the needs of the different cycles or educational groups.

A centralized main building was developed where the primary and administration classrooms are mainly located. To one side of the main building is the parking area and main access as well as the main performing arts hall. And towards the other end of the main building are preschool classrooms.

To develop the project on a more specific architectural level, the architects delved further into the principles of Waldorf education. Its structure follows the theory of its founder Rudolf Steiner who divides childhood into different stages of development and describes the appropriate learning strategies for each stage. During the first years of life, children learn best by unconsciously imitating practical activities. The dynamics in the initial part of preschool, the outdoor recess time alternates with the activities inside the educational space, the classroom pretends to resemble a home, and has simple tools and toys made from natural materials that they lend to imaginative play.

The use of these materials has been praised by numerous authors for meeting the aesthetic needs of children, encouraging their imagination and reinforcing their identification with nature. In this sense for the development of preschool classrooms taking into account these guidelines of activity and sensations to which children of early age should be exposed, an organic architecture was proposed with natural materials that would imitate nature and inspire children.

The architectural plan of the early childhood classrooms consists of a snail spiral that opens at its entrance and closes little by little on its winding path until it forms the central room where children interact. The roof is a self-supporting reciprocal structure that follows the shape of the spiral that is made up of interwoven pieces of rough wood pieces. The cover in its framework is meticulously made by a kind of weave of grass in the form of layers according to the indigenous tradition of southern Costa Rica.

In the centre of the roof structure, a circular opening is formed that allows light to enter and one can see the changing reflection of sunlight depending on its position. This cover, in addition to providing protection from the sun and rain, keeps the internal space cool and its natural texture and entrance of light creates an active sensation for our senses, connecting us with it constantly. For the elementary class module, the focus was on Steiner’s concepts– from this next stage of development, in which he considers that preparation for learning is more formal and organized and depends on greater independence of character, temperament, habits, motor skills and development of intellectual abilities, such as memory and abstraction.

In this sense, for the primary classrooms, the floor plan configuration was made more sober and formal with a modular layout. On this line, the distribution of spaces and the structural system was developed; this contributed to the spatial order, made the construction process more agile and meant a reduction in the waste of materials.

In this set of classrooms that is organized in a floor plan in the shape of a ‘Z’, grades 1, 2, 3 were located at one end and grades 4, 5 and 6 at the other end. Towards the centre were located the administrative areas, the kitchen, the dining room and the respective bathrooms. All areas are linked by long corridors that traverse the structure on its long side and connect it to the other project areas.

All the modules of the classrooms are separated by an open patio to provide more privacy between the spaces and create greater fluidity of air and light. The roof structure is separated from the ceiling as a floating
roof so that air passes through the spaces and keeps the interior space cooler.

The structure of the main set is raised on stilts to adapt to the terrain and avoid humidity from the ground at the lowest part. The construction methods are common in the area and traditional at the same time; it was built mainly with plantation wood treated with natural oil, the metal was used to maintain the rigidity of the structural roof of the main building but where it was warranted, materials were used natural as rough wood and grass, to maintain an architecture pleasing to the senses.

The project (house of the stars) is a ‘home’ in the forest where a subtle air of sea breeze is breathed, where children learn, run and play among the mazes that form the trees and the built spaces.

Photo credit: Escuela Waldrof

FACTFILE

Architects: Evangelina Quesada y Lucca Spendlingwimmer

Size: 1400sq m

Year of completion: 2019