Little and big architects

By Mathias Maurer, July 2014

Sven is building a cave with Lara. Sheets, chairs, clamps, string, rope, cushions and blankets – everything is put to use. It is very quiet in the cave and really rather comfy. The children imitate through play – recalling things – and also express through play what lifts them up but also what weighs them down. They express what they have assimilated, breaking it down into fragments and roles, rebuilding and changing it.

Tomorrow the cave will turn into a diving tower – something they have seen in the open-air swimming pool with bold divers – a wobbly stack of chairs in a construct with rather venturesome statics and yet balanced. And of course they also jump off it – with the appropriate noise despite the thick cushions.

It must be an archetypal need of human beings to create coverings, spaces and structures with which to surround themselves, rebuilding them and testing them for their resilience or, indeed, also destroying them.

Yesterday it was a ship which carried them across a dangerous ocean to a monkey island where they built a hut for themselves, the day after tomorrow the dynamic of their play will call for a hospital with bedridden dolls and teddies.

The thing which can still clearly be observed in the play of children is how what they create outwardly is experienced and acted out inwardly. Rudolf Steiner speaks about the extent to which the external environment of children is almost sculpted into the physical development of the organs through sensory experience. Human beings always experience form, architecture, at a deeply unconscious level. Spaces, structures, colours and smells act on their inner and physical equilibrium, indeed on their sense of vitality.

If, then, adults want to create buildings for children they have to understand something of children, but more than that they have to be able to see and experience things in the way that the child’s soul does. It is embarrassing when so-called child-centred buildings merely reflect adult ideas which happen to be in fashion at the time about the nature of children and their alleged needs. That is why architects also have to be educators; architects who design buildings for Waldorf schools also need to have understood something about Waldorf education and the element in the developing human being which transcends time. Then,  independently of industrial standards and cost-benefit ratios, they will be able to build in a way such that the child’s individuality can unfold into the future.

Sven and Lara have for years kept building one thing in particular: a shop. It is like a mercurial model for little and big architects: in this building things are cheerfully given and taken, things are given as presents, shared and traded. If our inner and outer wealth is in flux – what would our “shop” look like as architecture?

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