Architect: Ramsey Jones Architects
Owner: Jonathan Montessori School
Contractor: Engelsma Construction, Inc.
As Phase 2 of the initial project, the architects were charged with adding two more Casas / Classrooms to the Phase 1 renovation of a 1980s brick church building into a Montessori school.
Situated on a steeply sloping natural area, adjacent to the original fill for the church building pad, minimizing the scale of an engineered fill pad had to be balanced by critical requirement of engaging the children with the courtyard spilling into the spectacular Outdoor Classroom.
Organizing each Casa into a regular and legible rectangle, connected to form an L, and linked back to the renovated Phase 1 formed a sheltered courtyard, establishing a micro-climate for close-to-class outdoors engagement. This in turn, left a controllable narrower opening to the larger 5 acre Back Yard, a natural area, including prairie, woodlot and wetlands and related activity spaces.
The simple yet durable shell of the building volume is offset by the multitude of active, hands-on Montessori materials spread throughout the space. Consistent with the multi-sensory and experiential learning of the Montessori method, building materials are exposed and honestly expressed in the form of wood roof framing and decking, a pigmented and polished concrete floor and naturally weathering A606 steel sheathing.
Direct engagement from each classroom with the closely managed inner courtyard, peppered with primary source learning activities, from a cascading water management system to weather stations and gardening activities, further connects the structure with its Owner's educational goals.
Repurposing the existing church building into a school is the ultimate in sustainable practice. The addition was constructed as a durable and high-performance and low-maintenance shell, to be filled with children and Montessori materials. A ground linked hydronic slab radiates warmth, while abundant natural daylighting via clerestories and ventilation maintains interior comfort consistent with the local climate.
Charged with creating not just a building, but also a place supportive of the Montessori teaching methods, the architects tamed challenging site topography by wrapping a perimeter-building wall around a welcoming courtyard micro-climate. The courtyard necks down, then releases both children and a water management system into the broader and more natural Back Yard, creating a unique and expansive educational experience consistent with and supportive of the Montessori method of teaching.
Photos: Tim Davis