How has learning been shaped over the centuries? Which ideologies or visions have determined how we have experimented with the built environment?
Spaces for Learning, the Neuhaus history lab, explores 150 years of experimentation and innovation in the design of educational environments using a broad selection of drawings and models from the National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning.
The selection includes examples of schools and universities, but also other environments where knowledge is communicated, such as museums and libraries. The exhibits are divided according to five themes based on different spaces for learning – the classroom, the reception hall, the playground, the auditorium and the model room – making visible how innovative ideas about learning have gone hand in hand with new ideas about space, and vice versa.
The exhibition includes a design for a school in Sevenum by Pierre Cuypers from 1862 with classical rectangular classrooms. It is an early example of an approach to learning with the emphasis on health, hygiene, order and discipline. The notion of the school as a health-generating apparatus underpinned the many open-air schools that were built from the 1920s, such as the famous Open-Air School by Jan Duiker on the Cliostraat in Amsterdam.
In several school designs by Herman Hertzberger and Jan Verhoeven from the 1960s and 1970s, the classroom disappeared or became part of the collective space. With the ascendancy of ideas about free and individual learning and the emphasis on cooperation and interaction, the traditional form of the classroom as an elementary educational space was slowly broken open.
Spaces for Learning also features a design by Hendrik Wijdeveld from 1929 for an international school for architects and artists in Loosdrecht, based on the principles of the Bauhaus. The perspective drawings show flowing spaces with lots of glass, where students could learn to design under the supervision of experienced architects and artists. This school was never built. An example of a school that was realised is the Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs (1959) in Amsterdam by Gerrit Rietveld, now the Rietveld Academie, with lots of glass and flexible teaching spaces.
A new experience
In 1923, Cornelis Van Eesteren designed a building for the University of Amsterdam. Its highlight was the main hall, for which Theo van Doesburg designed the colour scheme with the intention of making architecture more plastic. The composition continued into the stairwells, the doors, the ceiling and via the corridors into the other spaces of the university building, intended to immerse the students in a new spatial experience and to encourage new ways of thinking. Another design focused on a spatial experience – but of a different kind – is Daniel Libeskind’s Deconstructivist design for the extension of the Victoria and Albert Museum (1997) in London, which has no straight walls.
There are various examples of pavilions and museums designed as spatial narratives or intended to inform, seduce, educate and entertain visitors simultaneously. Or exhibitions that are a spatial interpretation of an approach to learning that uses as many senses as possible. There are drawings, sketches and models that illustrate the design process of, among others, the Rijksmuseum by Cuypers, the pavilion for the 1937 World’s Fair by Wijdeveld and the design by OMA for the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe (1989), a cultural institution that transcends the museum, also known as ‘the electronic or digital Bauhaus’.